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The 

Romantic Agony 

By MARIO PRAZ 


TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY 

ANGUS DAVIDSON 


^yat trmvi la definition du Beau, de mon Beau* 
Cest quelque chase d* ardent et de triste * . , , Jene 
canfoisguire un type de BeauU oh il dy mtdu Malheur.* 
BAUDELAIRE, Joumaux intimes* 


SECOND EDITION 



GEOFFREY CUMBERLEGE 

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 


LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO 


Oxford Umperstty Press, Amen Home, London E,C,4 

GLASGOW NEW YORK TORONTO MfiLBOURNE Wl- LLINGTON 
BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS KARACHI CAPF TOWN IBADAN 

Geoffrey Cumberlege, Publisher to the University 


FIRST PUBLISHED 1933 
SECOND EDITION I951 
SECOND IMPRESSION 1 954. 


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 



NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION 

For many years the present book has been out of print, 
and its scarcity is responsible for many a legend. So we have 
happened to read in Charles Jackson’s The Outer Edges 
(New York, Rinehart & Co., 1948), p. 185, that the ‘best 
reading in God’s world’ for a sexual delinquent is supplied 
by ‘Mario Pratz [j/V] and Bertold Brecht’. Mr. Wyndham 
Lewis, in Men Without Art (p. 1 75), spoke of the present 
book as a ‘gigantic pile of satanic bric-i-brac, so indus- 
triously assembled, under my direction |^.?], by Professor 
Praz’. And Montague Summers, referring in his Gothic 
Quest to this opinion of Mr. Wyndham Lewis and to 
my letter to The Times Literary Supplement for August 8 th, 
1935, qualifying it, concluded: ‘After all it does not in 
the least matter who is responsible for such disjointed 
gimcrack as The Romantic Agony.' Serious scholars have 
thought otherwise, and the term ‘Romantic Agony’ has 
become current in the meantime in literary criticism. 

The present reissue, besides satisfying a steady demand, 
is destined to vindicate the author of the book from Mon- 
tague Summers’s strictures (p. 396 of The Gothic Quest: 
‘The voluble but not very i:|liaj^le pages of Signor Mario 
Praz’). Only a very few corrections were needed to remove 
occasional inaccuracies, unavoidable in such a vast survey: 
they amount to the deletion of passages referring to Keats 
and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and to the correction 
of the date of issue of The Monk. Much new material 
included in the later Italian editions has been added as 
Appendix II, since the photographic reprint did not admit 
of its insertion into its proper places in the text. Although 
this may be inconvenient to the reader, there was no other 
way of doing it. Attention is drawn to this added material 
by asterisks in the text. 

ROME MARIO PRAZ 

August 1950 




FOREWORD TO FIRST EDITION 

T he aim of the greater part of this book is a study of 
Romantic literature (of which the Decadent Move- 
ment of the end of the last century is only a development) 
under one of its most characteristic aspects, that of erotic 
ysensibility. It is, therefore, a study of certain states of 
mind and peculiarities of behaviour, which are given a 
definite direction by various types and themes that recur 
as insistently as myths engendered in the ferment of the 
blood. 

Looked at from this point of view, the literature of the 
nineteenth century appears as a imique, clearly distinct 
whole, which the various formulas such as ‘romanticism', 
‘realism’, ‘decadence,’ &c., tend to disrupt. In no other 
literary period,* I think, has sex been so obviously the 
» mainspring of works of imagination: but it is more profit- 
able to study the historical development of such a tendency 
than to repeat from hearsay, and as though incidentally, 
the vague accusations of sensuality and perversity with 
which critics of that period are generally content to label 
the darker portions of the picture. 

A student who undertakes such a discussion runs a 
risk of being classed with a band of writers who have 
made their name by a professedly scientific treatment of 
such subjects, such as Dr. Diihren (Ivan Bloch) or Max 
Nordau. Nordau’s volume on Degeneration aims at being 
a literary nosology of the Decadent Movement, but it is 
completely discredited by its pseudo-erudition, its grossly 
positivist point of view, and its insincere moral tone. A 
writer who, adopting the method of Lombroso, classifies 
a degenerate tram-conductor with Verlaine, and places 
Rossetti among the weak-minded (or even the imbecile, 
as he delicately hints in parenthesis) as described by 
Sollier, seems hardly capable of tracing the hidden sources 
of Decadent ‘degeneration’. 

Again, it is much easier to label as monsters certain 
writers who were tormented by obsessions, than to discern 
the universal human background which is visible behind 



viil FOREWORD 

their paroxysms. The sexual idiosyncrasies which will be 
discussed in the following pages offer, so to speak, a dis- 
vtorted image of characteristics common to all mankind. 
The remark made by Edmond Jaloux about Lafourcade’s 
study of Swinburne^ is apposite: ‘Pourquoi alors ne pas 
s’expliquer franchement sur le sadisme et ne pas vouloir 
accepter qu’il soit un des ferments les plus naturels de 
rime humaine.? On ne I’en d^busquera que plus facile- 
ment si on le connait bien.’ 

To any one who may protest, therefore, that the intimate 
examination of an artist’s life is irreverent, or worse, we 
jmay answer with Sainte-Beuve; 'Quand on fait une ^tude 
sur un homme considerable, il faut oser tout voir, tout 
regarder, et au moins tout indiquer.’^ We must not pay 
so much attention to momentary exclamations of satisfied 
curiosity — such as ‘Habemus confitentem’, ‘nous touchons 
ici I la clef — as to the more general aim of casting some 
light upon the most profound instincts of humanity — an 
aim in which a study like the present may perhaps, in the 
end, succeed. 

It must, however, be stated without further delay that a 
study such as the present one differs from a medico- 
scientific treatise in that the recurrence of certain morbid 
themes in a particular period of literature is not invariably 
treated as an indication of a psychopathic state in the 
writers discussed. The genetic link is in this case provided 
by taste and fashion; literary sources are discussed, and 
not — ^is it necessary to mention.? — resemblances due to 
physiological causes, so that, side by side with writers of 
genuinely specialized sensibility are to be found others 
who give a mere superficial echo of certain themes. Again, 
this study has not even a remote connexion with the socio- 
logical study or the study of collective psychology, in 
which case it would have had to include documentations 
from police and assize reports, scientific or pseudo- 
scientific works, and anonymous or popular literary pro- 
ductions 

The Marquis de Sade, in whom Sainte-Beuve saw ‘one 

* hi the Nmvelks Htthraires, June 14th, 1930. 

* ChateauMand et son gnmpe, vol. i, p. 102. 



FOREWORD ix 

of the greatest inspirers of the moderns’, will be frequently 
mentioned in the following pages. But an immediate 
word of warning is needed, no longer (as would have been 
necessary a few years ago) against the time-honoured 
condemnation of the author of Justine^ but against the 
reaction in his favour which a few years ago became fashion- 
able in certain literary circles in France. 

The conclusions of the present study will prove, even 
to those who are least well-informed, that Sade’s work is a 
monument — not indeed, as Guillaume Apollinaire was 
pleased to declare, ‘de la pens^e humaine’ — but at least of 
something. But that the light which his work throws upon 
the less mentionable impulses of the man-animal should 
suffice immediately to classify the author as an original 
thinker, or, without further ado, as a man of genius, is a 
conclusion only to be pardoned if the ignorance and 
momentary infatuation of its formulator are taken into 
account. Maurice Heine, in his introduction to the recent 
edition of the manuscript of the Infortunes de la vertu^ 
declares: 

‘La coalition des int^r^ts que, pour les mieux masquer, on qualilie 
g^n^ralement de moraux et de spirituels, s’est livr6c pendant un 
si^e, contre la pensde d’un homme de g^nie, k une agression per- 
manente et appuyee de toutes les forces r^pressives. Le but escomptd 
n’est pas atteint, ne le sera jamais. Certes, le prejudice caus6 au 
patrimoine humain par une importante destruction de manuscrits 
^quivaut k un d&astre. Mais par contre la salutaire r^volte, pro- 
voqufe et entretenue dans les esprits libres par une si odieuse per- 
secution, devait aboutir au mouvement d’attention et de sympathie 
qui, en France et ^ I’etranger, entoure desormais le nom de Sade. . . . 
II y a . . . lieu de croire que Sade, aprbs avoir inquiete tout un siecle 
qui ne pouvait le lire, sera de plus en plus lu pour remedier k I’in- 
quietude du suivant.* 

Jean Paulhan, reviewing Heine’s book in the Nouvelle 
Revue fran^aise of September 1930, speaks of Sade as ‘un 
dcrivain qu’il faut placer sans doute parmi les plus grands’, 
and discovers in his work merits of style. The recent en- 
^thusiasm of the Surrealists for Sade might well form a 
section of my chapter on ‘Byzantium’: but neither the 
conspiracy of silence which ended only yesterday, nor the 

A3 



X FOREWORD 

apotheosis towards which there is a tendency to-day, can 
be accepted. Let us give Sade his due, as having been the 
first to expose, in all its crudity, the mechanism of homo 
sensualism let us even assign him a place of honour as a 
psycho-pathologist and admit his influence on a whole 
century of literature; but courage (to give a nobler name 
to what most people would call shamelessness) does not 
suffice to give originality to a thought, nor does the hurried 
jotting down of all the cruel fantasies which obsess the 
mind suflice to give a work mastery of style.i It is true 
that the Surrealists, who have now made themselves the 
champions of Sade’s greatness, hold a curious theory on 
jthe subject of ‘^tqmatic writing^, as being the only kind 
(of writing to reveal the whole man, without hypocrisy or 
changes of mind; but this theory of untrammelled self- 
expression is precisely an extreme application of that very 
romanticism which, being so open to Sade’s influence, is 
on that account the least fitted to judge him dispassionately. 
The most elementary qualities of a writer — let us not say, 
of a writer of genius — ^are lacking in Sade. Though more 
worthy of the title of polygrapher and pornographer than 
a writer such as Aretino, his whole merit lies in having left 
documents illustrative of the mythological, infantile phase 
of psycho-pathology: he gives, in the form of a fantastic 
tale, the first systematized account of sexual perversions. 

Was Sade a ‘surromantique’ No, but he was certainly 
a sinister force in the Romantic Movement, a familiar 
spirit whispering in the ear of the ‘mauvais maitres’ and 
the ‘pokes maudits’; actually he did nothing more than 
give a name to an impulse which exists in every man, ?n 

* Already in 1921, R.-L. Doyon in an Appendix to his reprint of Barbey 
d’Aurevilly’s Le Cachet J*o»yx, p, 96, wrote of Sade: ‘A I’dnormit^ dn 
paradoxe, s’ajoute une icriture ^re, gradeuse mSme, i peine alourdie par 
les dissertations communes auz disdples attard^ de Jean-Jacques, de telle 
sorte que la fortune litt&aire du marquis d^prar^ dent ik la folie, au cynisme 
de ses aveux^ k I’^tranget^ de ses histoires, k la spdciaUtd de son genre et 
ausa k I’agr&nent de son style.’ But a better judge, Marcel Schwob, in a 
review of a book by Remy de Gourmont in the Mercure de France for 
July 1894 (see CEupres completes de M. Schwob, Chrmigues, Paris, 
Bernouard, 1928, pp. 201-2), said apropos of Sade: ‘Par infortune ce 
mauvais Arrirain est restd le meiUeur reprSsentant de son tour d’esprit,’ 



FOREWORD xi 

impulse mysterious as the very forces of life and death 
with which it is inextricably connected. 

Isolating, as it does, one particular aspect, fundamental 
though it may be, of Romantic literature — ^that is, the 
education of sensibility, and more especially of erotic 
sensibility — ^this study must be considered as a mono- 
graph, not as a synthesis, and the point of view of its 
author might be compared to that of some one who, in 
Poe’s well-known story, examined merely the crack which 
runs zig-zag across the front of the House of Usher, 
without troubling about its general architecture. I wish 
to add to the remarks on this point in the Foreword to the 
Italian edition certain explanations which seem to be called 
for by Benedetto Croce’s criticisms of my book^^ — ‘Praz 
'^seems to make out that what is called Romanticism con- 
sists in the formation of a new sensibility, that particular 
sensibility which is displayed in the various tendencies and 
fantasies which he so amply expounds. But is not Roman- 
ticism, even in its “historical” sense, and according to the 
current use of the word, a very much more complex thing ? 
Is it not rich, not only in theoretical values such as those 
which are commonly called dialectics, aesthetics, histoty, 
and the like, but also in moral values, and even in maladies 
and crises which are less shameful than those which he 
examines The reply to these questions already given in 
my Foreword — ^that is, that ‘the present study must be 
considered as a monograph, not as a synthesis’, and that 
‘other tendencies and energies contribute to creating the 
atmosphere of the nineteenth century’ — might be re- 
inforced by the words of Andr6 Gide (Les Faux-mon- 
nayeurs, pp. 179-80): ‘Toutes les grandes 6coles ont 
apporti, avec un nouveau style, une nouvelle ^thique, un 
nouveau cahier des charges, de nouvelles tables, une 
nouvelle fa9on de voir, de comprendre I’amour, et de se 
comporter dans la vie’; I might also argue that the study 
of one of these aspects does not attempt to deny the 
presence of the others, but that the way in which 
Croce establishes their interdependence seems to me to 
be questionable. 

‘ La Critica, vol. xxix, no. 2 (March 20th, 1931), pp. 133-4. 



apotheosis towards which there is a tendenc)r to-day, can 
be accepted. Let us give Sade his due, as having been the 
first to expose, in all its crudi^, the mechanism of homo 
sensualism let us even assign him a place of honour as a 
psycho-pathologist and admit his influence on a whole 
century of literature; but courage (to give a nobler name 
to what most people would call shamelessness) does not 
suffice to give originality to a thought, nor does the hurried 
jotting down of all the cruel fantasies which obsess the 
mind suffice to give a work mastery of style.* It is true 
that the Surrealists, who have now made themselves the 
champions of Sade’s greatness, hold a curious theory on 
•the subject of ‘aromatic writing^, as being the only kind 
fof writing to reveal the whole man, without hypocrisy or 
changes of mind; but this theory of untrammelled self- 
expression is precisely an extreme application of that very 
romanticism which, being so open to Sade’s influence, is 
on that account the least fitted to judge him dispassionately. 
The most elementary qualities of a writer — let us not say, 
of a writer of genius — ^are lacking in Sade. Though more 
worthy of the title of polygrapher and pornographer than 
a writer such as Aretino, his whole merit lies in having left 
documents illustrative of the mythological, infantile phase 
of psycho-pathology: he gives, in the form of a fantastic 
tale, the first systematized accoimt of sexual perversions. 

Was Sade a ‘surromantique’ ? No, but he was certainly 
a sinister force in the Romantic Movement, a familiar 
spirit whispering in the ear of the ‘mauvais maitres’ and 
the ‘pontes maudits’; actually he did nothing more than 
give a name to an impulse which exists in every man, ?n 

* Already in 1 92 1, R.-L. Doyon in an Appendix to his reprint of Barbey 
d’Aurevilfy’s i> Caciet d’onyx, p. 96, -wrote of Sade: ‘A I’dnormitd du 
paradoie, s’ajoute une dcriture daire, gradeuse mSme, k peine alourdie par 
les dissertations communes aux disdples attardds de Jean-Jacques, de telle 
sorte que la fortune littdraire du marquis ddpravd dent k la folie, au gmisme 
de s« aveuxi k I’dtrangetd de ses histoires, k la spddalitd de son genre et 
au^ k I’agrdment de son style.’ But a better judge, Marcel Schwob, in a 
review of a book by Remy de Gourmont in the Mercure de France for 
July 1894 (see (Emres completes de M. Schwob, Chrtmijues, Paris, 
Bemoimrd, 1928, pp. 201—2), said apropos of Sade: ‘Par infortune ce 
mauvais dcrivain est restd le meilleur representant de son tour d’esprit.’ 





impulse mysterious as the very forces of life and dea 
with which it is inextricably connected. 

Isolating, as it does, one particular aspect, fundamen 
though it may be, of Romantic literature — that is, t 
education of sensibility, and more especially of ero 
sensibility — ^this study must be considered as a mor 
graph, not as a synthesis, and the point of view of 
author might be compared to that of some one who, 
Poe’s well-known story, examined merely the crack whi 
runs zig-zag across the front of the House of Ushi 
without troubling about its general architecture. I wi 
to add to the remarks on this point in the Foreword to t 
Italian edition certain explanations which seem to be call 
for by Benedetto Croce’s criticisms of my book'' — ‘Pr 
'^seems to make out that what is called Romanticism cc 
sists in the formation of a new sensibility, that particu 
sensibility which is displayed in the various tendencies a 
fantasies which he so amply expounds. But is not Roma 
ticism, even in its “historical” sense, and according to t 
current use of the word, a very much more complex thin 
Is it not rich, not only in theoretical values such as the 
which are commonly called dialectics, aesthetics, histoi 
and the like, but also in moral values, and even in malad 
and crises which are less shameful than those which 
examines.?’ The reply to these questions already given 
my Foreword — ^that is, that ‘the present study must 
considered as a monograph, not as a synthesis’, and tl 
‘other tendencies and energies contribute to creating t 
atmosphere of the nineteenth century’ — ^might be 
inforced by the words of Andr^ Gide (Les Faux-mt 
nayeurs, pp. 179—80): ‘Toutes les grandes 6coles c 
apport^ avec un nouveau style, une nouvelle ^thique, 
nouveau cahier des charges, de nouvelles tables, u 
nouvelle fa^on de voir, de comprendre I’amour, et de 
comporter dans la vie’ ; I might also argue that the stu 
of one of these aspects does not attempt to deny t 
presence of the others, but that the way in whi 
Croce establishes their interdependence seems to me 
be questionable. 

* La Critica, vol. rax, no. 2 (March 20th, 1931), pp. 133-4- 



XU !• ORE WORD 

In the opinion of Croce,* who in any case fails to break 
away in this matter from the usual method of lit^ry 
historians (a clever exaggeration of this process is to be 
found in he Romantisme franfais, by Pierrfe Lasserre), 
the root of Romanticism qua moral phenomenon, of the 
*mal du sifecle’, has to be sought in the borderland between 
an ancient, hereditary faith which had collapsed, and a new 
faith, the faith in new philosophical and liberal ideals 
which had as yet been only imperfectly and partially 
digested: ‘This malady was due, not so much to breaking 
away from a traditional faith, as to the difficulty of really 
appropriating to oneself and living the new faith, which, 
to be lived and put into action, demanded courage and a 
virile attitude, also certain renunciations of bygone causes 
of self-satisfaction and comfort which had now ceased to 
exist; it demanded also, in order to be understood, dis- 
cussed, and defended, experience, culture, and a trained 
mind. This may have been feasible to robust intellects 
and characters, who were able to trace back the genetic 
process of the new faith without being overthrown by it, 
and, through inner conflicts, to reach their haven, and was 
also feasible, in a different way, to simple, clear minds and 
straightforward natures who immeffiately understood, 
adopted, and practised its conclusions, captivated by the 
light of their goodness; but it was not within reach of 
feminine, impressionable, sentimental, incoherent, fickle 
minds, which stimulated and excited doubts and diffi- 
culties in themselves and then could not get the better of 
them, and which liked and sought out dangers and then 
perished in them.’ 

These feminine minds are those to which psychologists 
.^ive the name ‘schizoid’; and it is questionable whether 
the minds of all artists are not, in a greater or lesser degree, 
of this kind. One remembers Keats’s words (in a letter to 
Woodhouse, October 27th, 1818): ‘As to the poetical 
character itself ... it is not itself — it has no self — it is 
every thing and nothing — ^it has no character — it enjoys 
light and shade — ^it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high 
or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated, — ^it has as much 
* Storia ^Europa (Bari. Laterza. 1932), p. 53, 



FOREWORD xiii 

delight in conceiving an lago as an Imogen. What shocks 
/the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet.’ So 
that Croce’s distinction comes, in substance, to mean that 
an artist could get the better of this conflict only in so far 
as he possessed strong ethical qualities over and above his 
artistic qualities (in Keats’s letter just quoted Keats is 
contrasting himself with Wordsworth). 

These minds, continues Croce, ‘having lost sight of the 
true God made to themselves idols . . . they identified the 
infinite with this or that finite, the ideal with this or that 
perceptible’; and there resulted from this those exaggera- 
tions, usurpations, and in fact subversions of values which 
are more properly called perversions : ‘lust and voluptuous- 
ness put in place of ideals, cruelty and horror flavoured 
with sensual pleasure, a taste for incest, sadism, satanism 
and other amusements of that kind — ^altogether monstrous 
and stupid. ’I It was thus that ‘not a few of the Romantics, 
having failed either to subdue or to pacify by their own 
strength of mind the upheaval which they had Roused in 
their own breasts, or to rise above it by forgetting it and 
returning to their humble everyday lives, went to per- 
dition.’2 

What could be more obvious than the attempt to trace 
the sources of the aberrations of a period to a metaphysical 
crisis ? As an example of this, it will be remerobered that 
literary historians, wishing to accoiuit for the rise in Eng- 
land of that peculiar poetical current which started ^th 
John Donne, attributed it to the collapse of the medieval 
conception of the world beneath the reiterated blows of 
newly-acquired knowledge, with the undermining of 
dogmas which resulted.* 

Now, though I do not deny that such explanations are 
worthy of consideration, it seems to me that they account 
only very indirectly for particular tendencies of sensibility. 
At, most they limit the screen on which the visions are 
projected, but they do not say why exactly those visions, 
and not others, appear. The course followed by currente 
of religious faith (including among Aese philosophy) is 
different from the course through which the education of 

* Croce, op. dt., p. $8. * Croce, op. dt., p. 6o. 



xiv FOREWORD 

sensibility is accomplished. The metaphysical wit which 
pervaded the seventeenth century found, certainly, a pro- 
pitious soil in the shaky condition of religious dogma, but 
it had existed ever since the Middle Ages, and one can 
trace its gradual infiltration through the school of Petrarch. 
The cult of ‘Medusean’ beauty burst forth into a fashion 
in the nineteenth century, but isolated signs of it were not 
lacking even earlier, which indicate that it was a case of a 
sporadic germ which at a certain moment became epi- 
demic. The period of greatest violence may have coincided 
with a religious crisis, but this only avails to explain the 
intensity, not the nature of the epidemic, which arrived at 
its final form by quite a different process. 

If, therefore, the history of ideas and ideals during the 
nineteenth century constitutes a necessary frame for the 
picture I have painted, it is a part which completes, rather 
than conditions, the whole; there was no obligation for me 
to examine it afresh, nor to deal with phenomena of other 
kinds, which in any case have been fully discussed by 
others. 

Why was it that, towards the end of the eighteenth 
century, people came to consider landscape with different 
eyes? why did they look for a ‘je ne sais quoi’ which they 
had not looked for before ? Why, at about the same time, 
did the ‘beauty of the horrid’ become a source, no longer 
,of conceits, as in the seventeenth century, but of sensa- 
ions ? To such questions adequate answers are not to be 
found in the history of the religious, philosophical, moral, 
^d practical development of the period. In this field of 
ideas is to be found a confirmation of the axiom pro- 
pounded by Wilde, as to Nature imitating Art (in The 
Decay of Lyin^. Education of sensibilitjr came about 
through worfe of art ; what it is therefore chiefly important 
to establish is the means by which the transmission of 
themes from one artist to another is effected. The 
mj^terious bond between pleasure and suffering has cer- 
tainly always existed; it is one of the vulnera naturae which 
is as old as man hirnself. But it became the common in- 
heritance of Romantic and Decadent sensibility through a 
particular chain of literary influences.* 



FOREWORD XV 

Croce would have me differentiate more profoundly be- 
tween what is termed Romanticism proper and what is 
called ‘Later Romanticism’ or ‘Decadence’. In the former, 
he says, ‘besides sexual pathology, the macabre and the 
diabolical, there existed ideals of liberty, of humanity, of 
justice and of purity which fought against the pathological 
interest and alternated with it’ ; but, as the century pro- 
ceeds, there gradually makes itself felt ‘the aesthetic con- 
ception of a life to be lived as passion and imagination, as 
beauty and poetry, which is in fact the opposite of actual 
life, which strives after the distinction, and with it the 
harmony, of all its forms and does not admit the patho- 
logical preference and supremacy of one single form over 
all the others, which are equally necessary each in its own 
particular capacity; and is also the opposite of poetry, 
which is an overcoming of action in cosmic contemplation, 
a deliberate pause in practical activity, though it may at the 
same time be a preparation for renewed activity’. In other 
words, the theory of Art for Art’s sake steadily gained 
ground, and, by criticizing all literary inspiration that was 
dictated by ethical ideals as being due to intrusions of the 
practical, destroyed such barriers as dammed up the mor- 
bid tendencies of Romantic sensibility, thus leading to the 
progressive cooling of the passionate quality with which 
the first of the Romantics had invested even morbid 
themes, and finally to the crystallization of the whole of the 
movement into set fashion and lifeless decoration. 

If there did not already exist a whole literature on the 
‘Art for Art’s sake’ movement, it would have been neces- 
sary to speak of it here. Highly characteristic examples of 
the progressive decay of ideals among artists occur in 
English literature. Byron found a means of escape by 
going to fight in the cause of an oppressed nation; Swin- 
burne found it later by exalting the cause of Italian inde- 
pendence into poetry (the dissociation from actual life is 
here an accomplished fact); finally, artists such as Pater, 
and more especially Wilde, who were immured in a 
‘Palace of Art’, sought in vain to resume contact with 
practical life by means of a religious ideal, through a 
return to Christianity.* 



As it is limited in aim, so is the present study limited i 
extent: it is based almost exclusively on observation 
gathered from three literatures, French, English, am 
Italian. Others are not mentioned except incidentally 
Hence the reader will find absent names such as Strind 
ber^, Sologub, Bryusov, Wedekind, and others whos 
testimony might have amplified the details (by pointin| 
out interdependent reactions), but not changed the funda 
mental lines of the picture as it is presented here. Such i 
picture has appeared to be sufficiently imposing on its owx 
merits to be worth confirmation by supplementary illustra 
tion. The central axis of the movement passes througl 
Paris and London: the other related European literature! 
gravitate round these points like satellites. This stud] 
stops at the threshold of the twentieth century, crossing 
it only in order to illustrate the protracted activity o. 
writers who were formed and matured in the Decadent 
period. It would have been easy to trace the course o; 
certain currents of the Decadent period right down to th( 
present day,i had there not been a risk of obscuring the 
clearness of the picture by discussing things which cannot 
yet be looked at in true proportion, because the eye sees 
them from too close an angle. 

I have preferred to leave the reader to form, from my 
exposition of the subject, his own comprehensive judge- 
ment upon the period I have treated, rather than formulate 
it myself at the end of the book in a stiff-jointed conclusion 
which he might have suspected to be the result of a pre- 
conceived thesis. As this is the first time that the ten- 
dencies I have chosen for examination have been systemati- 
cally treated, my best method seemed to be that of copious 
quotation, so that the reader might have some latitude in 
forming his estimate of them. 

* In France, for example: Bemanos, Sous le soleil de Satan \ Kessd, 
La Belie de jour; Carco, Perversitd; Lenormand, La Fie secrlte; Jouve, 
Paulina 1880^ La Seine capitate; Milosz, VAmoureuse Initiation; Gen 6 t, 
Querelle de Brest; for Germany, Ernst Jiinger, Auf den Marmorklippen^ &c. 



CONTENTS 

NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION . 


. page V 


FOREWORD TO FIRST EDITION .... page vii 
J INTRODUCTION. ‘Romantic’: an Approximate Term . page r 

CHAPTER I. THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA . . page 23 

I. ‘Medusean’ beauty in Goethe, Shelley, Keats. 2. The Beauty of 
the Horrid, the Beauty of Sadness, Beauty and Death, in the Pre- 
Romantics, in Novalis, Chateaubriand, Hugo, Baudelaire, Flaubert, 
D’Annunzio. 5. Precursors; Tasso, Marlowe, Webster. 4. Lyric 
poets of the Seventeenth Century. 5. Difference of meaning in themes 
of tainted beauty in Seventeenth-century writers and in the Romantics. 
6. Recurrence of these themes in Bauddaire. The attraction of fatsaa^ 
Jage. The beauty of gloomy landscape. 

CHAPTER n. THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN . page 51 

X. The figure of Satan in Tasso and Marino. 2. Milton’s Satan. An 
opinion of Taine. Supposed Satanism in Milton. Point of view of the 
Romantics (Schiller, Blake, Shelley). 3. Fusion of the ‘noble bandit’ 
type with that of the Miltonic Satan. Schiller’s Robber. 4. Type of 
outlaw in the ‘tales of terror’. Mrs. Raddiffe’s Schedoni. Shakespearean 
dements. 5. M. G. Lewis, H. Zschokke. Abellino^ Jean Shogar* 
6. Byron and the ‘outlaw’ type. Characteristics derived from Mrs. 
Raddiffe. 7. Byron and Teeluco. 8. Byron and Chateaubriand {Reni)* 
9. Biographical character of Byron, xo. The sense of sin in Byron:* 
le bonheur dans le crime, ix. The Fatal Man of the Romantics: Jean 
Sbogar, Antony. Criminal erotism. 12. Vampirism. X3. The philan- 
thropic outlaw in the writers of the romanjeuilleton. 14. Significance 
of vampirism. Connexion with the subject of Chapter I. A speech by 
Auger and an opinion of Sainte-Beuve. ‘Byron et de Sade . . . les deux 
plus grands inspirateurs de nos modemes.’ 

CHAPTER III. THE SHADOW OF THE ‘DIVINE MARQUIS’ page 93 

I . The type of the Persecuted Woman. Clarissa Harlowe. Richardson’s 
moral outlook. 2. La Reli^euse. Diderot and the Systlme de la Nature. 
3. Thirhe philosophe. 4. Les Liaisons dangereuses. Observations of 
Bauddaire. 5. The novels of the Marquis de Sade and his ‘philosophy’. 
6. Restif de la Bretonne. 7. Morbid themes in Chateaubriand. 8. Dif- 
fusion of the ‘persecuted woman’ theme. M. G. Lewis and his Monk. 
Success of this novel; Hoffmann, V. Hugo, G. Sand. 9. The Persecuted 
Woman in the novds of Mrs. Raddiffe. Recogxiition-scenes. 10. Female 
writers under the influence of the masculine point of view. Miss Wilkin- 
son, Mrs. Shelley, ix. Shelley’s Beatrice Cenci. Morbid themes in 
Sh^ey. 12. Maturin and his Melmoth. 13. Diffusion of the English 
‘tales of terror’ in France. Influence on the conception of life. Anecdote 
of Berlioz. The Princess Bdgiojoso. The ‘Jeunes-France’. 14. Vine 



xviii CONTENTS 

mriby].]zmn, 1 5, Janin as a moralist His essay on Sade; his review 
of Madame Putiphar. x6. The Mimoires du D table of F. Souli^. 
17* Pteus Borel le lycanthrope. Champaverti Madame Putipkar. 
1 8* The literary atmosphere in which Baudelaire grew up. An observa- 
tion of the Comte H. de Viel Castel. Berlioz. Musset. 19. Delacroix. 
20. Baudelaire. Discovery of Poe. Baudelaire and Sade. The erotology 
of Baudelaire. 21. Flaubert. La Tentation de Saint Antoine. The 
feminine ideal according to Flaubert. Flaubert and Mademoiselle de 
Maupin. Exoticism. 22. Autobiographical details of Flaubert. Flaubert 
and Sade. Flaubert and Byron. 23. The Comte de Lautr&mont and 
his Giants de Maldoror. Affinity with P. Borel. 

CHAPTER IV. LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI • . page 187 

I. Universality of the ‘fatal woman’ theme. Aeschylus; the Elizabethan 
Dramatists. 2. The type of the Fatal Woman in Romanticism. Two 
families. 3. Matilda in Tie Monk. 4. Vell^da, Salammb6. 5. Merimee: 
line Femme est un diable^ Carmen. Localization of the Fatal Woman. 
Exoticism and erotism. 6. Cecily in the Mystires de Paris. 7. Various 
derivations: Rosalba la Pudica, Conchita, &c. 8. Exoticism and mysti- 
cism. 'Anticipations of Romantic exoticism. Keats’s La Belle Dame sans 
merci. Th. Wainewright. 9. Gautier, founder of exotic aestheticism. 
line Nuii de Cliopdtre. Parabola of the sexes during the Nineteenth 
Century. 10. Nyssia {JLe Roi Candaule). La Finns d^llle. La Morte 
amoureuse. ir. The synthetic Fatal Woman. Gautier’s Impdria. 
The courtesan Marie in Novembre (Flaubert). The Queen of Sheba 
and Ennoia in Flaubert’s Tentation. Development of this type of Fatal 
Woman in England. 12. Swinburne. 13. Monckton-Milnes initiates 
Swinburne into the writings of Sade. 14. Swinburne’s algolagnia. 
‘The powerless victim of the furious rage of a beautiful woman.’ The 
type of Fatal Woman in the works of Swinburne. Influence of the Pre- 
^l^phaelites. Analog of female type with that of Gautier and Flaubert. 
15. Mary Stuart in Ciastelard. 16. Atalanta in Calydon and the 
influence of Sade’s theories. 17, Lesbia Brandony Anactoria. 18. The 
Fatal Woman in Poems and Ballads /, Dolores. 19. Sublimation of 
Swinburne’s algolagnia: the goddess Liberty. 20. Notes by Swinburne 
on certain femde heads drawn by Michaelangelo. Cleopatra. 21. The 
type of synthetic Fatal Woman culminates in Pater’s Monna Lisa. 
The fashion of the ‘Gioconda smile’. 22. Wilde’s Sphinx. 23. The 
Swinbumian Fatal Woman in E. Nencioni’s Rapsodia Lirica. 34. The 
S3mthetic Fatal Woman in D’Annunzio. Pamphila. Influence of 
Flauli^rt. Sonnets by Banville and D’Annunzio on Fatal Women. 
Ippolita Sanzio in 11 Trionfo della Morte. 25. Sadism in the work of 
D’Annunzio. D’Annunzio’s insincerity. 26. Derivation of the Super- 
woman of D’Annunzio from the Fatal Woman of Swinburne. 27. La 
Comnena; Basiliola; Fedra. 28. Sadistic theories in the work of D’An- 
nunzio. Isabdtta Inghirami philosophe. 29. Other Fatal Women in 
Rachilde^ Huysmans, O. Mirbeau. La Marquise de Sade, Clara in 



CONTENTS xix 

the Jardin des suppiices, 30. The type of Mademoiselle Bistouri in 
Decadent poetry. Humoristic evasion; Laforgue. 

CHAPTER V. BYZANTIUM page 287 

I. The art of G. Moreau. 2. The Salome of Moreau and Huysmans. 

3. The Fatal Woman in Moreau. Helen among the dying. 4. The 

Salome of Wilde. The theme as treated by Heine and by Flaubert. 
Banville. Laforgue. 5. Mallarm^’s Herodtade, Its symbolic significance.i/ 
Heredias and Salammb6. 6. ‘Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba.’ 
7. Sadism and Catholicism in the French Decadents. 8. Huysmans. 
The feeling for mournful landscape. Gilles de Rais. 9. Barbey d’Aure- 
viUy. 10. Villiers de I’lsle Adam. ii. Josephm Peladan’s tthopee. 
Decadent occultism. The theme of the Androgyne. Leonardo da 
Vinci’s Androgyne. Perverse interpretation of the Primitives. The 
Russian novel. Wagner. 12. Le CrSpuscule des dteux* 

13, Another itkopie of the Decadence; the novels of C. Mend^s. 

14. Rachilde. Monsieur Vinus, 15. Russian influence. Dostoievsky. 
16. Trh russe^ by J. Lorrain, Les Noronsoff* 17. Dorian Gray and 
Monsieur de Phocas. Pater and the English Decadents. Under the 
£f/ 7 /, by A. Beardsley. Lorrain and Moreau. Buveurs d*dmes, 18. The 
perverse fairy-tale. 19. Remy de Gourmont. 20. Marcel Schwob. 
21. Barr^s. Mournful landscape in Barres. 22. Gide. 23. Rops and 
Satanism; Lust and Death. 24. Post-Baudelairean poetry. RoUinat, 
Samain. R. de Montesquiou. Ren^e Vivien. Parodies. Les Diliquescences 
i*Jdori Floupette% The Decadent to his souL Verlaine. 25. The lament 
over the end of Latin civilization. Tout dicade. . . . Byzantium. 
P. Adam. 26. The most monumental figure of the Decadent Move- 
ment; D’Annunzio. Le Laudi and the Vittoriale. 

APPENDIX I. SWINBURNE AND ‘LE VICE ANGLAIS’ . page 413 

I. English algolagnia. G. A. Selwyn. 2. The type of the English 
sadist in French Romanticism. 3. In the Journal of the Goncourts. 
A portrait of Swinburne by Maupassant; its influence on the character 
of G. Selwyn in La Faustina intermixture with other real characters. 

4. The scandals of London as revealed by the Fall Mall Gazette^ 1885; 
an article by Villiers de I’Isle Adam. 5. Pedigree of the character of 
the Marquis of Mount Edgeumbe in II Ptacere, 6. English sadism 
in Tovltth Monsieur du Paur/m d’Aurevilly’s Diabohques\ in Le Jardm 
des supplices^ by O. Mirbeau; in Monsieur de Phocas and Les Noronsqff, 
by J. Lorrain; in La Vertu suprime^ by J. P^ladan. 7. Conclusion. 

APPENDIX n. ADDENDA 

INDEX OF NAMES > page 




INTRODUCTION 

‘ROMANTIC’; AN APPROXIMATE TERM 

' i "'HE epithet ‘romantic’ and the antithetical terms' 
‘classic’ and ‘romantic’ are approximate labels which 
have long been in use. The philosopher solemnly refuses 
to allow them, exorcising them with unerring logic, but 
they creep (juietly in again and are always obtruding them- 
selves, elusive, tiresome, indispensable; the grammarian 
attempts to give them their proper status, their rank and 
fixed definition, but in spite of all his laborious efforts he 
discovers that he has been treating shadows as though they 
were solid substance. 

Like an infinite number of other words in current usage, 
these approximate terms have a value and answer a useful 
purpose, provided that they are treated at their proper 
value — that is, as approximate terms — and that what 
they cannot give — exact and cogent definition of thought 
— ^is not demanded of them. They are serviceable make- 
shifts, and their fictitious character can be easily proved, 
but if the proof of their relatively arbitrary nature should 
cause us to dispense with their services, I do not see that 
literary history would benefit by it. 

The case is similar to that of literary ‘genres’. Let them 
be abolished: soon they will crop up again in the shape of 
more elaborate distinctions and categories, more in ac- 
cordance with the spirit of the particular moment, but no 
less approximate. Hence the practical necessity of em- 
pirical distinctions is recognized even by Croce, whose 
essay on Ariosto could never have been written without 
the aid of such expedients.^ The mistake is to wish to 
graft aesthetic problems on to ideas which are intended 
only to be practical and informative, but there is nothing 
to prevent the same use being made of these ideas as Am- 
pere made of the imaginary swimmer in the electric 
current. 

There is something to be said in favour of the method 
used by Dante in the Paradisoy where the blessed souls, 
who all have their stand in the ‘celestial rose’, in which 

« 



2 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

‘presso e lontano . . . pon leva’, yet show themselves 
to the poet by groups in the various spheres, 
non perch^ sortita 

Sia questa spera lor, ma per far segno 

Della celestial c’ha men salita. 

Literary criticism assumes the existence of a history of 
jculture — ^the culture of a particular milieii or of a particular 
individual. If the merging of the work of art into the 
general history of culture results in losing sight of the 
individual artist, it is impossible, on the other hand, to 
think of the latter without recurring to the former. Ten- 
dencies, themes, and mannerisms current in a writer’s own 
day provide an indispensable aid to the interpretation of 
his work. True, for the purpose of aesthetic appreciation, 
^this work forms a unique world shut up in itself, roimded 
off and perfected, an individuum ineffabile\ but this philo- 
sophical truism would leave the critic no other alternative 
but a mystical, admiring silence. 

But there is more to it than that. If it is true that the 
life of a work of art is in direct ratio to its being, so to 
speak, eternally contemporary, or able to reflect, with a 
universal application, the sentiments of periods in history 
which are in themselves diverse and remote, it is yet true 
that, in separating the work of art from its own particular 
cultural substratum, it is easy to fall into arbitrary, fantastic 
interpretations which alter the nature of the work even to 
the extent of making it unrecognizable. How many varia- 
tions on Dante and Shakespeare have not been devised 
by critics of creative rather than historical minds ? It is 
enough to quote the case of Hamlet^ a drama whose original 
colour has been entirely changed by the corrosive patina 
spr^d over it by the critics, ever since Goethe’s Wilhelm 
Meister^ interpreted the character according to his own 
image, changing into a Gefithlsmensch an Elizabethan 
whose strangeness appears to be due mainly to structural 
imperfections in the tragedy .3 To-day the vast majority of 
critics agree in describing Hamlet as the type of academic, 
speculative man unexpectedly transported into the world 
of violent action and there destined to play the part of a 
vessel of clay, and the tragedy as the tragedy of the power- 



INTRODUCTION 3 

lessness of intellect confronted with the hard facts of prac- 
tical life.'* To uproot this long-standing conception seems 
to-day an undertaking no less sacrilegious and graceless 
than the desire to prove that Monna Lisa’s smile is a good 
deal less complicated than Walter Pater liked to think. 
Yet there is little doubt that the current interpretation of 
Hamlet is an arbitrary one — even though this arbitrariness 
may be providential — and that, whenever one examines a 
work of art at the same time divorcing it from the circum- 
stances of its origin, one is bound to arrive at extreme 
cases of this kind. 

Now the use of formulas such as ‘romantic’, ‘baroque’,, 
&c., serves to give some guidance to the interpretation of 
a work of art, or, in other words, to define the limits 
■within which the activity of the critic is to be confined and 
beyond which lie mere arbitrary and anachronistic judg- 
ments. The sole object of these formulas is to keep in mind 
Ithe character of the period in which the work was pro- 
'duced, in such a way as to avoid the danger of a combina- 
tion of words, sounds, colours or forms becoming sur- 
reptitiously invested with ideas which are aroused in the 
mind of the interpreter, but which certainly did not exist 
in the mind of the artist. Similar results may arise out of 
very different artistic intentions. Thus in a seventeenth- 
century writer like Alessandro Adimari one finds a love- 
sonnet on a beautiful lady recently buried, but one must 
be careful not to see in it a manifestation of romantic 
necrophily; when, elsewhere, he goes into ecstasies over a 
‘wounded beauty’, one must refrain from imagining in 
such a composition a morbid exquisiteness of feeling such 
as is found in Baudelaire’s Une Martyre\ but keeping in 
mind the partiality of the baroque period for every form 
of wdt, one must attribute the choice of these unattractive 
subjects mainly to the desire of provoking astonishment 
through the conceit which can be elicited from them. 

So also, when one reads in Aleman: ‘O maidens of 
honey voice so loud and clear, my limbs can carry me no 
more. Would, O would God I were but a ceryl, such as 
flies fearless of heart with the halcyons over the bloom of 
the wave, the Spring’s own bird that is purple as the seal’ 



4 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

one must not try to discern in him signs already of an 
aspiration similar to that which made Shelley invoke the 
wild spirit of the West Wind: 

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee; 

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share 
The impulse of thy strength, only less free 
Than thou, O uncontrollable . . . 

or which made Monti exclaim, in the manner of Goethe : 

Oh perch^ non poss’io la mia deporre 
D’uom tutta dignitade, e andar confuso 
Col turbine chc passa, e su le penne 
Correr del vento e lacerar le nubi, 

O su i campi a destar dell’ampio mare 
Gli addormentati nembi e le procelle! 

or Hslderlin : 

. . . o dorthin nehmt mich 
Purpurne Wolken! und m6ge droben 
In Licht und Luft zerrinnen mir Liebe und Leid! 

because such aspirations are the property of the Roman- 
tics, s and Aleman is not a Romantic. Actually Aleman’s 
artistic intention is shown by the passage from Antigonus 
Carystius which accompanies the quotation of the above 
lines : ‘He says that old age has made him feeble, and un- 
able to join the choruses in their evolutions or the maidens 
in the dance.’ Aleman evokes the ‘ceryl’ as an example of 
those qualities which he no longer possesses — freedom of 
movement and spring-like youthful ardour. The image 
sticks closely to the situation (the halcyons corresponding 
to the maidens with whom the poet wilbnever dance again), 
and there is no room for the vague Stimmung^ the thirst for 
ijthe infinite, which animates the lines of the Romantics. 
But there is nothing to prevent a modern critic who con- 
fines himself to its external values and separates it firom the 
confines of time and mentality from distorting the frag- 
ment of Aleman to a romantic significance. And what is 
one to say of the qualities of a Venetian painter and — even 
more absurd — of an Impressionist, which have been dis- 
covered in Pindar by an eminent Greek scholar of the 
present day? And of the reputation of a romantic pessi- 



INTRODUCTION S 

mist which has been acquired by Cecco Angiolieri, thanks 
to the seemingly ambiguous beginning (which, in any case, 
is a cliche) — ‘S’io fossi foco, arderei ’1 mondo’ — of a sonnet 
of which the end shows clearly its burlesque character? 

A sense of the difference between the various cultural 
atmospheres should also serve to prevent us reading ‘Era 
gi^ Tora che volge il disio’ in the same spirit as Keats’s 

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas, in feery lands forlorn. 

Certainly, if one wishes to arrive at a true historical 
interpretation, one is forced to renounce elegant variations, 
which are seductive but lack authority. Lorenzo Mon- 
tano, in his preface to a selection from the work of Maga- 
lotti, points out ‘passages which make one think of De Foe’s 
Captain Singleton^ and of the exotic Romanticism which 
had its great beginnings not many years later’. And he 
quotes the passage on the Unicorn: ‘. . . that African soli- 
tude of hjty mountains, from the peaks of which can he 
descried an immense tract of flat and wooded country'. The 
passage, isolated in this way, acquires a colouring which it 
would be difficult to see in it in the original context. Actu- 
ally the expression ‘African solitude’, which sets the tone 
of the whole, originates in Montano, whereas in Maga- 
lotti the passage is an illustration of what goes before it, 
rather than a piece of ‘exotic Romanticism’ ; ‘This part of 
the country, being the farthest recess of the province of 
Agaes, serves in the ordinary way as a place of exile for 
all those from whom the Emperor wishes to protect him- 
self, as it consists entirely of very lofty mountains, &c.’ 
With a little imagination it might in the same way be 
possible to discover ‘exotic Romanticism’ in Marco Polo, 
by interpreting the passage about the palace of Cublai Can 
in the light of Coleridge’s Kuhla Khan. Except that in the 
time of Marco Polo this type of exoticism had not yet come 
into being; besides, who would be bold enough to repre- 
sent Marco Polo as a Romantic ante litter ami 

Approximate terms such as' ‘baroque’, ‘romantic’, ‘de- 
cadent’, &c., have their origins in definite revolutions of 
■> sensibility, and it serves no purpose to detach them from 



6 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

their historical foundations and apply them generously to 
artists of varied types, according to the more or less ex- 
travagant whims of the critics. It happens only too often 
that the unsuccessful artist which lurks repressed in the 
soul of the critic seeks an outlet in the composition of a 
critical novel, or in projecting on to some author or other 
a light which is quite alien to him, which alters his appear- 
ance and brings it up to date, greatly to the detriment of 
the correct interpretation. For such purposes are these 
approximate terms used capriciously by critics, just as a 
clever cook uses sauces and seasonings to disguise the food. 
So Petrarch is foimd to be baroque, Tasso a Romantic, 
Marino to resemble D’Annunzio, 

miraturque novas frondes et non sua poma. 

These terms', however, are intended merely to indicate 
where the accent falls, and have no meaning outside the 
circumference of certain historical periods. The same idea 
may assume quite a different significance in Petrarch, 
where it is used for the first time, and in Marino, who 
imitates it from Petrarch; for Marino invests it with a 
feeling of baroque which is alien to Petrarch, and also 
draws the reader’s special attention to it. In Petrarch the 
idea is incidental, in Marino deliberate and essential. 
Hence the highly problematical value of any research 
into the forerunners of seventeenth-century literature, of 
Romanticism, and, indeed, of Futurism — a form of re- 
search which is as elegantly literary as it is generally 
arbitrary and inconclusive, since these empirical formulas 
cannot be applied to every period and every place. It is, 
I believe, to the neglect of this criterion that one may 
ascribe the discredit into which certain of these terms 
have fallen, particularly the antithetical terms ‘classic’ and 
‘romantic’. 

These two terms, introduced, as is well known, by 
JGoethe and Schiller, ^ have ended by being adopted as the 
criteria of interpretation for all periods and all literatures ; 
in the case of literature, as well as in that of the plastic arts 
and music, people frequently speak of Classic and Roman- 
tic in the same way as, in politics, they speak, universally. 



INTRODUCTION 7 

of Conservative and Liberal, with an extension of meaning 
which is, quite obviously, arbitrary. 

‘Classical and romantic’, sa)7s Grierson,’ ‘these are the systolq 
and diastolejjf the human heart in history. They represent on the 
one hand our need of order, of synthesis, of a comprehensive yet 
definite, therefore exclusive as well as inclusive, ordering of thought 
and feeling and action’; 

and on the other hand the discovery of the finiteness, of the 
inadequacy of such a synthesis when confronted by new 
aspirations, and the revolution which is the result of this 
discovery. Grierson distinguishes an ‘historical’ meaning 
in the term ‘classic’ and also a merely qualificatory mean- 
ing; in accordance with the former he calls ‘classic’ any 
literature which is the expression of a society which has 
attained a perfect balance of forces. A classical literature, 
says Grierson, accepting to a great extent the ideas of 
Brunetifere, 

‘is the product of a nation and a generation which has consciously 
achieved a definite advance, moral, political, intellectual; and is 
filled with the belief that its view of life is more natural, human, 
universal, and wise than that from which it has escaped. It has 
eflFected a synthesis which enables it to look round on life with 
a sense of its wholeness, its unity in variety; and the work of the 
artist is to give expression to that consciousness, hence the solidity 
of his work and hence too its definiteness, and in the hands of great 
artists its beauty. . . . The work of the classical artist is to give 
individual expression, the beauty of form, to a body of common 
sentiments and thoughts whidi he shares with his audience, 
thoughts and views which have for his generation the validity of 
universal truths.’ 

Since every ‘classical’ literature represents a synthesis, a 
balance of forces, it makes at the same time a compromise, 
that is, it implies exclusions and sacrifices which sooner or 
later come to be resented. No sooner does a resentment 
of this kind achieve a certain degree of intensity than the 
classical idea breaks up, and new forms of imagination and 
feeling make themselves felt and demand expression; a^ 
‘romantic’ period begins. Thus ‘romantic’ is accepted by 
Grierson in a wider sense, similar to that found in Littr^ : 
‘II se dit des dcrivains qui s’affranchissent des regies de 
composition et de style dtablies par les auteurs classiques.’ 



8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Applpng this antithesis to the whole of history, Grierson 
believes it possible to show three Romantic movements in 
European literature. The first comes to light in the 
tragedies of Euripides and the dialogues of Plato, and 
culminates in the revolution both in religious thought and 
in Greek prose introduced by Saint Paul: the second coin- 
cides with the blossoming of profane romances in the 
twelfth and thirteenth centuries {Lancelot and Guinevere, 
Tristan and Iseult, Aucassin et Nicolette) and was a sign of 
the revolt of worldly ideals against the ascetic and spiritual 
ideals of the ecdesiastical literature then predominant: the 
third is the one which generally bears the name of the 
Romantic Movement, the characteristics of which are in a 
sense opposed to those of the second, the reaction this 
time being against Aufkldrung and rationalism. Analog- 
ously Alfred Baumler has called the Dionysiac movement 
of the sixth century b.c. ‘the Romanticism of antiquity’, 
seeing in it a reaction of mystical and chthonic nature 
against the solar divinities of the Dorians.® 

Extended in this way the terms ‘classic’ and ‘romantic’ 
come finally to denote, respectively, ‘equilibrium’ and 
‘interruption of equilibrium’, and come very near to 
Goethe’s definition, ‘Classisch ist das Gesunde, Roman- 
tisch das Kranke’; on the one hand, there is the serene 
state of mind of the man who does not notice his own 
health precisely because he is healthy; on the other, the 
state of ferment and struggle of the invalid who fights to 
overcome his own fever, or in other words to achieve a new 
equilibrium. Such an extension of the terms ends by being 
of an apparent rather than of a real use, since, generalized 
in this way, they are bound finally to become identified, the 
one with the passionate, practical element in the artistic 
process, the other with the theoretical and synthetic ele- 
ment, in which matter is converted into form (Croce): so 
they lose all value as historical categories and merely indi- 
cate the process which goes on universally in every artist. 
This is evident, for instance, in the following passage 
from Paul Valdry:® 

‘Totd classicisme suppose un romantisnu anthieur. Tous les avan- 
tages que Ton attribue, routes les objections que I’on fait k un art 



INTRODUCTION 9 

“classique” sont rektife k cet axbme. V essence du classktsme est de 
venir apris. Vordre suppose un certain d&ordre qu’il vient r^duire. 
La composition^ qui est artifice, succMe &. quelque chaos primitif 
d’intuitions et de d^veloppements naturels. La piereti est le r&ultat 
d’opdrations infinies sur le langage, et le soin de la forme n’est autre 
chose que la reorganisation meditde des moyens d’expression. Le 
ckssique implique done des actes volontaires et refldchis qui modi- 
fient une production “naturelle” conform^ment a une conception 
claire et rationnelle de I’homme et de I’art.’ 

However, if one wishes to protect the useful function of 
the word ‘romantic’ as an approximate term, one must first 
of all distinguish this function from that of its so-called 
opposite ‘classic’, which has become nothing more than a 
secondary abstract reflection of the term ‘romantic’ : then, 
returning to the original use of the word, one must accept 
it as the definition of a peculiar kind of sensibility at a fixed 
historical period. The indiscriminate use of the word can 
only cause misunderstanding and confusion, as it does 
when Grierson speaks of the ‘romantic thrill’ one feels 
when reading the myths of the Cave, of Er, and of the 
Chariot of the Soul in the Phaedrus^ and of the ‘romantic 
^conception’ of Plato ‘of an ideal world behind the visible’ ; 
here the epithet ‘romantic’ is surreptitiously transferred 
from the modern reader’s impression to the Platonic con- 
ception itself, and Plato is shown as a Romantic because 
the reader is pleased to interpret his legends in a romantic 
way. 

Before sketching the history of the word ‘romantic’, I 
wish to record the most curious example of arbitrary 

f eneralization to which the ‘classic-romantic’ antithesis 
as given rise : the elevation of the two terms into Grund- 
begnffe (in the manner of Wslfilin) by a German critic, 
[Fritz Strich,>^° whose undeniable acuteness was blunted by 
an overwhelming love of theory. Strich notes certain ten- 
dencies which undoubtedly exist in Romantic poetry, and 
encouraged by distinctions such as Goethe’s between 
poetry ‘gegenstandlichen und sehnstkehtigen Inhalts’, 
or that of Schlegel between Poesie des Besitzes (which 
corresponds to ‘classic’) and Poesie der Sehnsucht (which 
corresponds to ‘romantic’), and by contrasts such as 



10 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

hat of Helderlin between orgisch and aorgisck, or that of 
"Nietzsche between Apollinean and Dionysiac, he does not 
iiesitate to build up on this foundation a tower of Babel 
which is ingenious but unsubstantial as a dream. The 
dream vanishes the moment Strich tries to come down to 
reality, to the illustrations of his theories. These illustra- 
tions are extremely thin and prove nothing — ^unlike 
Wslfflin’s illustrations, which give a colour of truth to his 
empirical ideas of linear and pictorial, of closed form and 
open form and so on. Few of the poems quoted by Strich 
can be upheld as exemplary works of art, and, if those of 
Goethe and Hslderlin are excepted, the others peep out 
from beneath his vast mass of theory like wretched little 
mice produced by immense mountains. Strich, for ex- 
ample, puts great importance upon Kleist’s Penfhesilea, a 
work which strives to give the impression that it is the 
product of a mind full of obsessions and hallucinations, 
but only succeeds in being pretentious and ridiculous. 
As a general rule — ^it may be said in parenthesis — it is 
always advisable to mistrust a drama when it can be seen, 
from the mere look of the page, to be composed of long 
speeches rather than of dialogue in which each character 
takes a proportionate part: a drama consisting of long 
speeches means what they call a ‘lyrical’ drama, which is 
a flattermg definition of bombastic drama. The reading of 
Penthesilea fully confirms this first glance. If, instead of 
limiting himself to the German Parnassus, Strich had 
made use of foreign literatures, he might perhaps have 
succeeded in giving a more convincing colour to his 
theories, though he would not have been able to prove 
them worthy of serious consideration, since what he at- 
tempts — ^the co-ordination of approximate terms in an 
organic system — ^is no less desperate than an attempt to 
build a house on quicksands. 

Strich’s book is a reductio ad absurdum of the ‘classic- 
romantic’ antithesis. Nevertheless I think that Croce’s 
Conclusion — ^that ‘romantic’ and ‘classic’ are moments of 
ithe human spirit, existing in every individual man, identi- 
ifiable with matter and form, i.e. abstract moments of a 
process which is in reality indivisible — I think that this 



INTRODUCTION ii 

conclusion does justice only to the secondary meaning of 
these formulas, taking off from their value, as useful ap- 
proximate terms and indications of definite historical char- 
acteristics. Or, to be more exact, from the value of one of 
them — ^the term ‘romantic’, since the other — ‘classic’ — ^is a 
derivative and has meaning only in the sense of -playing at 
being classical^ that is, as the definition of the programme 
of a school opposed to the romantic school, which, in its 
turn, inasmuch as it is a school, or conscious, organized 
manifestation, stands in relation to romantic sensibility as 
the chastened to the spontaneous. Classicism, then^ is a 
phenomenon by no means alien to the romantic spirit; on 
the contrary, inasmuch as it seeks to revive manners and 
ideas belonging to the past, inasmuch as it strives long- 
ingly towards a fantastic pagan world, rather than sharing 
in the state of serene equilibrium proper to so-called 
classical works of art (which are serene without knowing 
it), it shares in the same spiritual travail which is usually 
defined as characteristically and par excellence ‘romantic’. 
It is not the content which decides whether a work should 
Jbe labelled ‘romantic’ or not, butthe spirit ^nd, in , this 
sense, a Hslderlin or a Keats, wbrSiipping,"arthey do, a 
vanished world, is no less romantic than a Coleridge or 
a Shelley. In other words, there is such a thing as a 
‘Romantic Movement’, and classicism is only an aspect 
of it. There is no opposite pole to ‘romantic’, merely be- 
cause ‘romantic’ indicates a certain state of sensibility 
which, simply, is different from any other, and not com- 
parable either by co-ordination or by contrast. 

How can one describe the new state of sensibility 
which came into full flower towards the end of the eigh- 
teenth century ? What does ‘romantic’ mean ? The evolu- 
tion of this word has been traced by Logan Pearsall 
'sSmith,^^ to whose lucid exposition I owe a great deal of 
what follows. 

The word ‘romantic’ appears for the first time in the 
English language about the middle of the seventeenths 
century, meaning ‘like the old romances’, and shows how 
there began to be felt, about this time, a real need to give 
names to certain characteristics of the chivalrous and 



12 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

pastoral romances. These characteristics, thrown into 
relief by contrast with the growing rationalistic spirit 
which was soon to triumph in Pope and Dr. Johnson, lay 
in the falsity, the unreality, the fantastic and irrational 
nature of events and sentiments described in these ro- 
mances. Like the terms ‘gothic’ and ‘baroque’, therefore, 
‘romantic’ started in a bad sense. The shade of meaning 
indicated by ‘romantic’, at this stage of its development, 
is clearly evinced by the other words with which it was 
usually coupled, words such as ‘chimerical’, ‘ridiculous’, 
‘unnatural’, ‘bombast’. One reads of ‘childish and roman- 
tic poems’, of ‘romantic absurdities and incredible fic- 
tions’, and so on. Nature’s truth is contrasted with the 
•falsity of the romances. Everything that seemed to have 
been produced by a disorderly imagination came to be 
called ‘romantic’. The contrast is well presented in a 
couplet of Pope’s 

. . . that not in Fancy’s maze he wandered long, 

■ But stooped to Truth, and moraliz’d his song. 

But a new current in taste can be discerned right from 
the beginning of the eighteenth century: there is a grow- 
ing tendency to recognize the injpprtance of imagmation 
in works of art. ‘Romantic’, though continuing to mean 
something slightly absurd, takes on the flavour of attrac- 
tive, suited to please the imagination. ‘The subject and 
scene of this tragedy, so romantic and uncommon, are 
highly pleasing to the imagination’, wrote J. Warton in 
1757. Side by side with the depreciatory use of the word 
in relation to the events and sentiments of the old ro- 
mances, ‘romantic’ came to be used also to describe scenes 
and landscapes similar to those described in them, and, 
this time, without any note of scorn. As early as the middle 
of the seventeenth century examples are found of similar 
usage, especially in the case of old castles (as early as 1 666 
Pepys wrote of Windsor Castle, ‘the most romantique castle 
that is in the world’), of mountains, forests, pastoral plains, 
desolate and solitary places. The two meanings are both 
to be found in Dr. Johnson, who, while on the one hand he 
speaks of ‘romantic and superfluous’, ‘ridiculous and 



INTRODUCTION 13 

romantic’, ‘romantic absurdities and incredible fictions’, 
on the other hand writes, without a hint of scorn, ‘When 
night overshadows a romantic scene, all is stillness, silence 
.and quiet’, &c. In this second sense, the adjective has 
gradually ceased to retain its connexion with the literary 
genre (the romances) from which it was originally derived, 
and has come to express more and more the growing love 
;for wild and melancholy aspects of nature.^^ It is so closely 
connected with certain qualities of landscape that French 
translators of English books of the period, when the word 
‘romantic’ is used, often render it with ‘pittoresque’ : which 
shows that the French were not yet aware of the new state 
of sensibility suggested by the word ‘romantic’. It was not 
until 1776 that Letourneur, translator of Shakespeare, and 
the Marquis de Girardin, author of a book on landscape, 
i deliberately use the word ‘romantique’, noting the reasons 
in favour of the adoption of this ‘mot anglais’. ^ 3 It is 
possible to see from their notes how these French writers 
had finally grasped the exact shade of meaning. ‘Roman- 
ic’, they say, means more than romanesque (chimerical, 
fabulous)^^ or pittoresque (used to describe a scene which 
istrikes the eye and arouses admiration); ‘romantic’ de- 
scribes not only the scene but the particular emotion 
aroused in the person who contemplates it. Rousseau pro- 
bably came by the word from his friend Girardin, and 
conferred upon it full French citizenship in the well-known 
Riverie du promeneur solitaire. In romantique Rousseau 
found the appropriate word to define that elusive and in- 
distinct thing which hitherto he had vaguely expressed by 
v‘je ne sais quoi’ : ‘Enfin, ce spectacle a je ne sais quoi de 
magique, de surnaturel, qui ravit I’esprit et les sens’ 
{Nouvelle Heloise). In this sense, ‘romantic’ assumes a sub- 
\jective character, like ‘interesting’, ‘charming’, ‘exciting’, 
which describe not so much the property of the objects as 
our reactions to them, the effects which they arouse in an 
impressionable onlooker. Besides, as L. P. Smith ob- 
serves, Nature described as ‘romantic’ is seen through a 
veil of associations and feelings extracted from poetry and 
literature in general. 

The term pittoresque^ which arose at the same time, 



14 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

expresses a similar phenomenon, The subjective element/ 

implicit in ‘romantic’, rendered this word particularly 
suitable to describe the new kind of literature in which 
suggestion and aspiration had so large a part. It is true 
that in England, where the word ‘Romanticism’ only 
came to be used later, the antithesis between ‘romantic’ 
and ‘classic’, German in its origin, was at first expressed 
by the contrasting of ‘magical and evocative poetry’ with 
rhetorical and didactic poetry as exemplified by Pope. 
Magie der Einhildungskraft (Magic of the Imagination) is 
the title of the well-known essay in which Jean Paul 
defines the essence of romantic sensibility. How does it 
come about — asks Je an JPaul? — that everything which 
exists only in aspiration (Sehnsucht) and in remembrance, 
everything which is remote, dead, unknown, possesses 
this magic transfiguring charm ? Because — ^the answer is 
— everything, when inwardly rejpresented, loses its precise 
outline, since the imagination possesses the magic virtue 
of making things infinite. And Novalis; ‘Alles wird in der 
Entfernun^ Poesie: feme Berge, feme Menschen, feme 
Begebenheiten. Alles wird romantiscK 

The word ‘romantic’ thus comes to be associated with 
another group of ideas, such as ‘magic’, ‘suggestive’, 
^nostalgic’, and above all with words expressing states of 
mind which cannot be described, such as the German 
‘Sehnsucht’ and the English ‘wistful’. It is curious to note 
that these two words have no equivalent in the Romance 
languages — a clear sign of the Nordic, Anglo-Germanic 
origin of the sentiments they express. Such ideas have 
this in common, that they furnish only a vague indication, 
leaving it to the imagination to make the final evocation. 
A Freudian would say that these ideas appeal to the un- 
conscious in us. It is the appeal of Yeats’s Land oj Heards 
Desire. 

The essence of Romanticism consequently comes to 
consist in that which cannot be described. The word and 
the form, says Schlegel in Lucindey are only accessories. 
The essential is the thought and the poetic image, and 
these are rendered possible only in a passive state. The 
Romantic exalts the artist who does not give a material 



INTRODUCTION 15 ' 

form to his dreams — ^the poet ecstatic in front of a forever 
blank page, the musician who listens to the prodigious 
concerts of his soul without attempting to translate them 
into notes. It is romantic to consider concrete expression 
pfls a decadence, a contamination. How many times has the 
magic of the ineffable been celebrated, from Keats, 
with his 

^ Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
Are sweeter. . . . 

to Maeterlinck, with his theory that silence is more 
J musical than any sound! 

But these are extreme cases, in which the romantic 
tends to merge in the mystical. The normal is that of 
Suggestive expression, which evokes much more than it 
states. Whenever we encounter such a method, we do not 
hesitate to define the artist who makes use of it as ‘roman- 
tic’. But the legitimate use of this term depends upon the 
deliberate method of the artist, not upon the mere inter- 
pretation of the reader. In these lines of Dante: 

Quale ne* plenilunii sereni 
Trivia ride tra le ninfe eterne 
Che dipingon lo del per tutti i seni 

the modern reader is inclined to detect one of the most 
obvious cases of evocative magic, in virtue of their purity 
of sound, of the play of diaereses, of the use of certain 
words in themselves suggestive — plenilunii, eterne — ^and 
of others which bring legends to the mind — Trivia, ninfe. 
Are we to say, therefore, that Dante, in these lines, is a 
Romantic? Is it not, rather, a romantic education, which 
has by now become traditional, that causes the modern 
reader to interpret these lines in this way? If each century 
had left us a list of what, in its own opinion, were the 
greatest beauties in Dante, we should be able to trace an 
interesting history of taste, but would it be possible to 
base on these anthologies a reconstruction of Dante’s 
inspiration? One line of Petrarch: 

Fior, frondi, erbe, ombre, antri, onde, aure soavi 

used to send the writers of the sixteenth century into 
ecstasies. ‘This is the loftiest, the most sonorous, and the 



i6 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

fullest line to be found in modern or ancient writers,’ 
wrote Sebastiano Fausto da Longiano. But who among us 
at the present day would be capable of seeing in this line 
all that the writers of the sixteenth century saw ? 

A knowledge of the tastes and preferences which belong 
to each period is a sine qua non of the interpretation of a 
•/work of art, and literary history cannot afford to dispense 
with approximate terms such as those we have been dis- 
cussing, terms which do not claim to be more than 
symbols of specific tendencies of sensibility. They are 
intended to be empirical categories, and to condemn them 
as futile abstractions is as great an error as to exalt them 
into realities of universal import. 



NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION 

^ Cf. Ariosto^ Shakespeare e Corneille^ especially pp. 27-9. 

2 Cf. W. Diamond, ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Interpretation of Hamlet’, 
in Modern Philology, August 1925. 

3 Cf. T. S. Eliot, ‘Hamlet and his Problems’, in The Sacred Wood 
(London, Methuen, 1920).* 

^ Cf. E. K. Chambers, Shakespeare, a Survey (London, Sidgwick Sc 
Jackson, 1925). 

5 Other quotations might be added, e.g. Lamartine {V Isolemeni)\ 
Quand la feuille des bois tombe dans la prairie, 

Le vent du soir se l^ve et Farrache aux vallons; 

Et moi je suis semblable k la feuille fl^trie; 

Emportez-moi comme elle, orageux Aquilons! 

® Cf. J. P. Eckermann, Gesprdche mit Goethe, 21 Mkrz 1830. 

7 ‘Classical and Romantic’, in The Background of English Literature, 
and other collected Essays and Addresses (London, Chatto Sc Windus, 
1925). 

® In the introduction to the new edition of Der My thus von Orient und 
Occident, eine Metaphysik der alien Welt, by J. J. Bachofen. See E. Seil- 
li^re, Le Nioromantisme en Allemagne, vol. iii, J^e la diesse Nature h la 
diesse Vie {Naturalisme et vitalisme mystiques), (Paris, Alcan, 1931), 
pp. 26-7. 

^ ‘Situation de Baudelaire’, in Revue de France, Sept.--Oct. 1924 (vol. v, 
p. 224) reprinted in Variiii, ii (Paris, Nouvelle Revue Fran^aise, 1930), 
pp. 155-6. 

Deutsche Klassik und Romantik, oder Vollendung und Unendlichkeit, 
ein Vergleich (Munich, Meyer Jessen, 1922). See Croce’s review of this 
in Crittca, vol. xxi, p. 99. 

“ Cf. ‘Four Romantic Words’ in Words and Idioms, Studies in the 
English Language (London, Constable, 1925).* 

Cf. R. Haferkorn, Gotik und Ruine in der englischen Dichtung des 
achtzehnten Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, Tauchnitz, 1 92 5); A. L. Reed, The 
Background of Graf s Elegy (New York, Columbia University Press, 1925). 

Cf. the essay by A. Francois in Annales de la Sociiti J, J. Rousseau 
(Paris), vol, V, 1909. 

In his essay on ‘Romantisch und Romanesk’, in Britannia, Max 
Forster zumsechzigsten (Leipzig,Tauchnitz, 1929, pp.2 1 8-227) 

M. Deutschbein has tried to make use of the two terms in order to dis- 
tinguish between external romanticism, to be associated with fancy, and 
inner romanticism, the product of imagination. Romanesk should be 
employed to designate certain tendencies to the strange, the exotic, the 
grotesque which have made their appearance many times throughout 
history (e.g. in the Greek romances), whereas romantisch ought to be used 
for genuine Romanticism, whose essence, according to Deutschbein, lies 



t8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

n a deep understanding of the harmony of the universe (he quotes in this 
:onnexion certain lines from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence*. *To see a world 
n a grain of sand’, &c.). Such a distinction, her emarks, had been fore- 
shadowed by Brande in A Dictionary of Science ^ 1842 (quoted from the 
0 ,E.D)\ ‘In historical painting the romanesque consists in the choice of 
i fanciful subject rather than one founded on fact; the romanesque is 
iifferent from the romantic because the latter may be founded on the truth 
which the former never is.’ However, Deutschbem goes on to say, now- 
idays ‘romantic’ stands in English for both romanttsck and romanesk. 
Deutschbein’s distinction is, after all, of little utility, for every work of 
art worth the name is romantisch in the sense he gives to this worcf (cf. 
‘Das Romantische erhebt die Forderung des Gleichgewichtes aller mensch- 
lichen Funktionen: Blut — Seele — Geist. Das Romantische verlangt die 
Totalitat von Denken, Fiihlen und Anschauung’, &c.). 

This idea of the meaning of Romanticism seems to be shared by Lascelles 
Abercrombie {Romanticism^ London, Martin Seeker, 1926), who opposes 
to it the term ‘realism’ (thus curiously contradicting, without knowing it, 
Brande’s definition just quoted: nee^ess to say, such contradiction bears 
witness to the hopeless state of confusion caused by the loose way in which 
all these terms are used). One of the most important characteristics of 
Romanticism consists for this critic in a kind of retreat from the external 
world to an ‘inner’ world. Realism ‘loves to go out into the world, and 
live confidently and busily in the stirring multitude of external things’ 
(cf. Deutschbein’s romanesk^). Romanticism is at least a withdrawal from 
these outer things into inner experience. Roughly and approximately it 
is a transition from ‘perception’ to ‘conception’. Therefore, also for Aber- 
crombie, the term ‘romanticism’ becomes identical with the inner urge 
of every artistic inspiration, 

« The ‘picturesque’ (a word, as is well known, of Italian origin, mean- 
ing the point of view essentially of a painter) was elaborated as a theory in 
England between 1730 and 1 830 (‘Le Pittoresque nous vient d’Angleterre’ 
— Stendhal) and was, in a sense, a prelude to Romanticism. If we regard 
the ‘picturesque’ period merely as the period during which this particular 
point of view became conscious and assumed the importance of a fashion, 
then undoubtedly the English poets Thomson and Dyer, with their 
descriptions which translate into terms of literature the pictorial manner 
of Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, are the godfathers of the Picturesque. 
But it is hardly safe to date the actual discovery of certain aspects of land- 
scape from the eighteenth century; and extremely risky to accept, as does 
Christopher Hussey in his excellent study Tie Picturesque^ Studies in a 
Point if View (London and New York, Putnam, 1927), certain general 
jtheories on the conception of Matu re in the various historical periods. 
'He makes the specious assertion that “Christianity, by identifying Nature 
with sin, prevented the appreciation of landscape, and on the other hand, 
by its anthropomorphism, concentrated attention on the representation 
of Man — an assertion which will not stand the test of particular cases: and 
there is no need to bring Dante into the question, nor even the much- 



INTRODUCTION 19 

praised Alpinism of Laura’s immortaiizer, to show how even in the Middle 
Ages certain qualities of Nature were appreciated, which the eighteenth 
century only underlined and exaggerated. When Hussey quotes the 
example of China to prove that urbanism brings about, by contrast, an 
appreciation of natural beauty, one might remind him of a similar case 
actually in the Western world, and as ancient as Alexandria. For it was, 
in fact, in the Hellenistic ci\^zation that a pastoral poetry and a genre 
painting were elaborated, which show curious affinities with the eighteenth- 
century Picturesque; and it was an emperor of Hellenistic education, 
Hadrian, who built near Tivoli a villa which seems to reveal quite as 
much preoccupation with picturesque views and quite as much erudite 
exoticism as was shown by the eighteenth-century owners of English 
country-houses, with their Gothic ruins and Chinese towers. If Hussey 
had read the Greek romances, he would have realized how much the 
literature of that time sought to emulate the works of the brush (descrip- 
tions in the style of paintings, taken from the Greek romances which he 
imitated, are to be found in Sidney’s Arcadtd)^ and that the description of 
‘picturesquely’ composed scenes was no new thing in the eighteenth 
century. It was the Alexandrians who worked out the formula ‘Ut pictura 
poesis’, which the Emblematists of the sixteenth century, and du Fresnoy 
in 1665, only repeated, (On e/c^pdacts* and on ‘Ut pictura poesis’ see the 
long essay by W. M. Howard in PuhL Mod. Lang. Ass. Am.^ vol. xxiv, 
no. I (March 1900), pp. 40-123, and the works quoted in the notes 
to pp. 1 70- 1 of The Greek Romances in Elizabethan Prose Fiction^ by 
S. Wolff.)* 

Leaving aside these Greek precedents, however, and confining ourselves 
to the period for which Hussey’s work is so useful, the eighteenth century 
in England, there remains no doubt that the fashion for the Picturesque, 
like many other fashions, was of Italian origin (just as Vanbrugh’s con- 
ception of picturesqueness, in the realm of architecture, was also of Italian 
origin), deriving, on the one hand, from the landscapes of Claude and 
Salvator Rosa (whom the worthy English of the eighteenth century called, 
simply, ‘Salvator’) and, on the other, from the buildings of Bernini and 
Borromini and the etchings of Piranesi. (In this connexion see also Miss 
Manwaring’s Italian Landscape in Eighteenth Century England^ 1925*) 
The collectors who, on their return from the ‘Grand Tour’, filled their 
ancestral homes with Italian canvases, promoted the taste for the Pic- 
turesque, already heralded by the poets. Among the latter, in company 
with Denham in CoopePs Htll and Milton in V Allegro^ Hussey does not 
mention Richard Lovelace (1618-57), who posed as a connoisseur of 
pictures, quoted Vasari and van Mander, and declared his intention of 
showing to the (then) indifferent English in what esteem the fine arts 
should be held. Still more important, he forgets Andrew Marvell (i 621-78) 
who, in his poems Upon Appleton House and The Bermudas^ displayed so 
well-developed a feeling for Nature and the Picturesque that it immediately 
places him in close relation to the Romantics. In Marvell we can already 
discern that worship of the ‘incognito indistinto’ (as Dante would have 



20 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

called it) which Campbell in 1 799 was to formulate explicitly in the famous 

*Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, 

^And robes the mountain in its azure hue. 

But if one wished to trace to its first stages each different ‘je ne sais quoi* 
of Romanticism, and to analyse the complex education presupposed by 
a line like Campbell’s on the magic of distance, it would indeed be a long 
business. It will therefore be more convenient to start from Burke’s funda- 
mentally important book. Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime 
and Beautiful (1756), which was the first to give a clear-cut form to such 
axioms as ‘No work of art can be great but as it deceives’, ‘A clear idea is 
^another name for a little idea’. This book, with its theory of the physical 
basis of the aesthetic emotion, and its comparison of the sensation of Beauty 
with the pleasure one feels in being carried along by a swift and easy coach 
over a gently undulating surface, explains the vogue of the serpentine lines 
in Chippendale furniture and in the shapes of paths and artificial lakes in 
the gardens of the late eighteenth century. From the books of Burke and 
Reynolds we go on to those of Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, 
of Gilpin and Alison, who complete the definition of the Picturesque in 
relation to the Sublime and Beautiful. Its characteristics are found to 
consist in dazzle and flicker of effect, ih rapid succession of colours, lights, 
and shades, in roughness, sudden variation, irregularity. ‘Counterfeit 
neglect’ — ‘sprezzatura’, as Baldassare Castiglione would have called it — 
(is recognized as another fundamental characteristic of the Picturesque. 
There would have been no harm if the Picturesque had been confined to 
the preference for one kind of line and one kind of effect over another. 
The trouble started when theory led to practice, because the Picturesque 
was then found to consist in an intellectual rather than visual predilection 
for certain subjects. A typical example of a ‘picturesque’ subject is a 
hovel beneath a gnarled oak, with an aged gipsy, a rusty donkey, mellow 
tints and dark shadows. This example, together with the famous descrip- 
tion of the picturesque charm of the old parson’s daughter (her cross-eyes 
and uneven teeth are considered picturesque qualities), is to be found in 
Price’s highly entertaining dialogue on The Distinct Characters of the 
Picturesque and Beautiful (1801). 

A sign of the new fashion in taste is shown in the capacity to appreciate 
Alpine landscape (both the Alps and the English Lake District). Although 
this subject has already been, to a certain extent, discussed, Hussey succeeds 
in enriching it with new illustrations. The year 1768 is an important date 
in the history of the Picturesque, for the publication of a poem by Dalton 
and a letter by Dr. Brown had the effect of making Gray and Young visit 
the English Lakes. Two years later, a tour of the Lakes was the height of 
fashion. The Reverend Dr. Gilpin, whose volumes were illustrated with 
scenog^aphically picturesque drawings (published in 1782 and the years 
following), was one of the high priests of the new cult. He took great care 
also to suit to the various landscapes expressive and appropriate figures, 
and is delighted when a view entirdy of the horrid kind seems to call for 
the presence of a company of banditti in the manner of Salvator Rosa. 



INTRODUCTION 21 

Gilpin has also valuable advice to give on the subject of picturesque 
animals, such as ‘The actions of a goat are still more pleasing than the 
shagginess of his coat*. Hollow tree-trunks are excellent for foregrounds, 
trees blasted by lightning are also very picturesque, and pines can be 
recommended because of their association with Roman ruins. 

It was in garden-designs that the new ‘picturesque’ sensibility eventually 
ran riot. The efforts of those barbers of Nature, the celebrated designers 
of parks — ^‘Capability’ Brown with his special type of ‘idealized’ garden, 
and Humphrey Repton, with the ‘impressionist’ garden — continually 
border on the ridiculous, and already in 1779 Richard Graves in his 
Columella, or the Distress Anchoret, gives a delicious caricature of the pic- 
turesque chtnoiseries indulged in by owners of parks. Later came Peacock’s 
caricature. Headlong Hall. But the best, because unconscious, caricature 
is the garden that Mr. Tyers had arranged for his leisure hours at Denbies, 
in which the paths were emblems of human life, now comfortable and 
flat, now rugged and steep, with here and there stones bearing moral 
inscriptions: and, best of all, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, with 
coffins instead of columns, and skulls scattered picturesquely about. Extra- 
vagances of this kind — ^which surpass the well-known caricature of the 
picturesque garden in Bouvard et Picuchet — show clearly the kind of 
pictorial-literary taint which affected the idea of the Picturesque. The 
Picturesque might almost be defined as the ‘paintable idea’, and cannot, 
generally speaking, be called true painting, any more than so-called poetical 
ideas, or ideas which suggest poetry, can be called true poetry. 

Quoted from Strich, p. 56. Cf. the lines by Campbell quoted in 
note 1 5. 




CHAPTER I 

THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 


Le beau est fait d^un iliment itemel^ hwariahle^ dont la quantite est ex- 
cesst<uement difficile d determiner^ et d*un iliment rehztif circonstanciel, qui 
seray si Von ^eut^ tour d tour ou tout ensemble^ Vipoque^ la mode, la morale^ 
la passion* Sans ce second iliment^ qui est comme Ven^eloppe cmusante, 
titillante, apirittve, du dknn gateau, le premier iliment serast indigestible, 
mappriciabUi non adapti et non approprii d la nature bumaine* 

BAUDELAIRE, L’Art xomantique. 




CHAPTER I 

THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 

I, No picture made a deeper impression on the mind 
of Shelley than the Medusa, at one time attributed to 
Leonardo,* which he saw in the Uffizi Gallery towards the 
end of 1 8 1 9. The poem which he wrote upon it deserves to 
be quoted here in full, since it amounts almost to a manifesto 
of the conception of Beauty peculiar to the Romantics, 

It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky. 

Upon the cloudy mountain-peak supinej 
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly; 

Its horror and its beauty are divine. 

Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie 

Loveliness like a shadow, from which shine, 

Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath. 

The agonies of anguish and of death. 

Yet it is less the horror than the grace 
Which turns the gazer’s spirit into stone, 

Whereon the lineaments of that dead face 
Are graven, till the characters be grown 
Into itself, and thought no more can trace; 

’Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown 
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain, 

Which humanize and harmonize the strain. 

And from its head as from one body grow, 

As [ ] grass out of a watery rock, 

Hairs which are vipers, and they curl and flow 
And their long tangles in each other lock. 

And with unending involutions show 

Their mailed radiance, as it were to mock 
The torture and the death within, and saw 
The solid air with many a ragged jaw. 

And, from a stone beside, a poisonous eft 
Peeps idly into those Gorgonian eyes; 

Whilst in the air a ghastly bat, bereft 
Of sense, has flitted with a mad surprise 
Out of the cave this hideous light had cleft. 

And he comes hastening like a moth that hies 
After a taper; and the midnight sky 
Flares, a light more dread than obscurity. 



26 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

’Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror; 

For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare 
Kindled by that inextricable error, 

Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air 
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror 

Of all the beauty and the terror there — 

A woman’s countenance, with serpent-locks. 

Gazing in death on Heaven from those wet rocks. 

‘ ’Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror. , . In 
these lines pleasure and pain are combined in one single 
impression. The very objects which should induce a 
shudder — ^the livid face of the severed head, the squirm- 
ing mass of vipers, the rigidity of death, the sinister light, 
the repulsive animals, the lizard, the bat — all these give 
rise to a new sense of beauty, a beauty imperilled and con- 
taminated, a new thrill 

One remembers the words of Faust and Mephistopheles 
on the night of the witches’ Sabbath. Faust has seen, alone 
and apart, a pale and beautiful young girl who resembles 
Margaret. Mephistopheles says to him : 

Let it be — ^pass on — 

No good can come of it — it is not well 
To meet it — it is an enchanted phantom, 

A lifeless idol; with its numbing look 
It freezes up the blood of man; and they 
Who meet its ghastly stare are turned to stone. 

Like those who saw Medusa, 

Faust Oh, too true! 

Her eyes are like the eyes of a fresh corpse 
Which no beloved hand has closed, alas! 

That is the breast which Margaret yielded to me — 

Those are the lovely limbs which I enjoyed! 

MepK It is all magic, poor deluded fool! 

She looks to everyone like his first love. 

Faust Oh, what delight! what woe! I cannot turn 
My looks from her sweet piteous countenance. 

How strangely does a single blood-red line. 

Not broader Aan the sharp edge of a knife. 

Adorn her lovely neck!* 

Here, one might say, throu^ the Ups of Faust speaks 
the whole of Romanticism. This glassy-eyed, severed 
female head, this horrible, fascinating Medusa, was to be 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 27 

the object of the dark loves of the Romantics and the De- 
cadents throughout the whole of the century.* 

For the Romantics beauty was enhanced by exactiy 
those qualities which seem to deny it, by those objects 
which produce horror; the sadder, the more painful it was, 
the more intensely they relished' it. ‘Welch eine Wonne! 
welch ein Leiden!’ 

In his Philosophy of Composition Poe explicitly admits 
that ‘the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, 
the most poetical topic in the world’. The sight of his 
mother dying of consumption, when Poe was hardly three 
years old, could not fail to leave in the child an indelible 
impression, which later transposed itself into the figures of 
Berenice, Morelia, Eleonora, Ligeia.* Romantic fashion 
for consumptiye ladies, can be abundantly illustrated, from 
Nodier’s Ftlleule du Seigneur to Irving’s The Wife and The 
Broken Hearty to the American Ode to Consumption which 
begins: ‘There is a beauty in woman’s decay.’ 

2 . Such instances seem to mark the culminating point of 
the aesthetic theory of the Horrid and the Terrible which 
had gradually developed during the course of the eigh- 
teenth century.3 The new sensibility had begun to take 
clear form in compositions such as Collins’s Ode to Fear 
and in The Castle of Otranto, written by Walpole as the 
whim of a dilettante medievalist; it had sought to analyse 
its own origins in such essays as that of J. and A. L. Aikin 
‘On the Pleasure derived from Objects of Terror’ and the 
‘Enquiry into those kinds of Distress which excite agree- 
able sensations’ (in Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, London, 
1773), and in Drake’s essay ‘On Objects of Terror’ which 
precedes the fragment of Montmorenci', it had received the 
sanction of Goethe, who declared ‘Das beste des Menschen 
liegt im Schaudern’. The discovery of Horror as a source 
of delight and beauty ended by reacting on men’s actual 
conception of beauty itself: the Horrid, from being a 
category of the Beautiful, ended by becoming one of its 
essential elements, and the ‘beautifully horrid’ passed by 
Insensible degrees into the ‘horribly beautiful’. But the 
discovery of the beauty of the Horrid cannot be considered 
as belonging entirely to the eighteenth century, although 



28 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

it was only then that the idea came to full consciousness. 
It was, after all, only a question of realizing — to use Flau- 
bert’s metaphor* — that 

‘autrefois on croyait que la canne k sucre seule donnait le sucre, on 
en tire k peu prfe de tout maintenant; il en est de m€me de la po6sie, 
extrayons-la de n’importe quoi, car elle git en tout et partout.’ 

Beauty and poetry, therefore, can be extracted from 
materials that are generally considered to be base and re- 
pugnant, as, indeed, Shakespeare and the other Eliza- 
bethans knew long before this, though they did not 
theorize about it. On the other hand, the idea of pain as an 
integral part of desire is a different matter, and has a cer- 
tain novelty. The following aphorisms are taken from 
Novalis {Psychologische Fragmente)'. ‘It is strange that the 
association of desire, religion, and cruelty should not have 
immediately attracted men’s attention to the intimate re- 
lationship which exists between them, and to the tendency 
which they have in common.’ ‘It is strange that the true 
source of cruelty should be desire.’ 

Nor is Novalis the only writer to observe the intimate 
connexion between cruelty and desire, between pleasure 
and pain. Shelley’s disconsolate conclusion that pain is 
inseparable from human pleasure inspired the line: 

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.* 

Musset echoes the idea: 

Les plus d&esp^r& sont les chants les plus beaux.® 

So also, later, does Andr^ Gide: ‘Les plus belles oeuvres 
des hommes sont obstin^ment douloureuses.’? All through 
the literature of Romanticism, down to our own times, 
there is an insistence on this theory of the inseparability of 
pleasure and pain, and, on the practical side, a search for 
t heme s'^'Ftbfmented, contaminated beauty. This in- 
separability constitutes ‘la grande synthase’, says Flaubert, 
whom we shall find it necessary to quote frequently in 
these pages as one of the chief exponents of Romantic 
sensibility: 

‘Tu me dis que les punaises de Ruchiouk-Hinem — [he writes 
of the Arab prostitute] — te la d6gradent; c’est Ik, mol, ce qui m’en- 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 29 

chantait. Leur odeur nauseabonde se mSlait au parfum de sa peau 
ruisselante de santal. Je veux qu’il y ait une amertume k tout, un 
eternel coup de sifflet au milieu de nos triomphes, et que la d&olation 
m^me soit dans I’enthousiasme. Cela me rappelle Jaffa, oti en 
entrant je humais a la fois Fodeur des citronniers et celle des 
cadavres; le cimetiere defence laissait voir les squelettes a demi 
pourris, tandis que les arbustes verts balan^aient au-dessus de nos 
tetes leurs fruits dores. Ne sens-tu pas que cette po^sie est complete, 
et que c’est la grande synth^e ? Tous les appetits de Timagination 
et de la pens^e y sont assouvis k la fois.’® 

Baudelaire says the same thing in his Hymne a la Beaute^ 
a hymn to that Beauty which elsewhere (in his Causerie) he 
calls ‘dur fleau des ames’ : 

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de I’abtme, 

O Beaut^? Ton regard, infernal et divin. 

Verse confusement le bienfait et le crime. 

Tu marches sur des morts, Beaute, dont tu te moquesj 
De tes bijoux I’Horreur n’est pas le moins charmant, 

Et le Meurtre, parmi tes plus chores breloques, 

Sur ton ventre orgueilleux danse amoureusement. 

L’amoureux pantelant incline sur sa belle 
A Fair d’un moribond caressant son tombeau. 

Que tu viennes du ciel ou de Fenfer, qu^importe, 

O Beaute! monstre enorme, effrayant, ingenu! 

Si ton ceil, ton souris, ton pied, m’ouvrent la porte 
D’un infini que j’aime et n’ai jamais connu ? 

Also in a passage of the Journaux intimes \ 

^J’ai trouv^ la definition du Beau, de mon Beau. 

‘C’est quelque chose d’ardent et de triste. . . . Une tfete seduisante 
et belle, une t^te de femme, veux-je dire, c’est une tete qui fait 
rever k la fois, — mais d’une maniere confuse, — de volupte et de 
tristesse; qui comporte une idee de meiancolie, de lassitude, mSme 
de sati^t6, — soit une id^e contraire, c’est-k-i're une ardeur, un 
d&ir de vivre, assocife avec une amertume refluante, comme venant 
de privation et de d&esp6rance. Le mystere, le regret sont aussi des 
caracteres du Beau. 

‘Une belle t6te d’homme . . . contiendra aussi quelque chose 
d’ardent et de triste, — des besoins spirituels, — des ambitions 
t6n6breusement refoul^es, — Fidfe d’une puissance grondante et 



30 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

sans emploi, — quelquefois Tidee d’une insensibility vengeresse . . . 
quelquefois aussi • . . le mystere, et enfin (pour que j’aie le courage 
d^avouer jusqu’k quel point je me sens moderne en esthetique) le 
malheur. Je ne pretends pas que la Joie ne puisse pas s’associer 
avec la Beaute, mais je dis que la Joie est un des ornements les plus 
vulgaires, tandis que la Melancolie en est pour ainsi dire I’illustre 
compagne, k ce point que je ne congois guere (mon cerveau serai t-il 
un miroir ensorcele ?) un type de Beauty oti il n’y ait du Malheur, 
Appuyy sur — d’autres diraient: obsede par — ces idyes, on con9oit 
qu’il me serait difficile de ne pas conclure que le plus parfait type 
de Beauty virile est Satan — ilz maniere de Milton.’ 

This is a passage which serves as an explanatory note to 
the Madrigal tristex 

Sois belle! et sois triste! . . . 

Je t’aime surtout quand la joie 
S’enfiiit de ton front terrassy^ 

Quand ton coeur dans I’horreur se noiej 
Quand sur ton prysent se dyploie 
Le nuage afFreux du passy. 

Je t’aime quand ton grand ceil verse 
Une eau chaude comme le sang; 

Quand, malgry ma main qui te berce, 

Ton angoisse, trop lourde, perce 
Comme un r^le d’agonisant. 

J’aspire, volupty divine! 

Hymne profond, delicieux! 

Tous les sanglots de ta poitrine. . . . 

The idea expressed in Keats’s Ode on Melancholy is con- 
firmed by Baudelaire: ‘La myiancolie, toujours insyparable 
du sentiment du beau.’i^^ A well-known passage from the 
third book of the Memoires d* outre^-tombe of Chateaubriand 
— ^that forerunner of the Decadence — shows quite clearly 
^what sort of pleasure is evoked by a melancholy landscape; 

Te saccage des biicherons paraissait plus tragique encore k ce 
moment de I’annye oil tout s’appr6tait k revivre. Dans I’air attiydi 
les rameaux dejk se gonflaient; des bourgeons ydataient et, coupee, 
chaque branche pleurait sa skve. J’avan9ais lentement, non point 
tant triste moi-myme qu’exalty par la douleur du paysage, grise peut- 
fetre un peu par la puissante odeur vegytale que I’arbre mourant et 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 31 

la terre en travail exhalaient. A peine ^tais-je sensible au contraste 
de ces morts avec le renouveau du printemps; le pare, ainsi, s’ouvrait 
plus largement k la lumibre qui baignait et dorait ^galement mort et 
vie; mais cependant, au loin, le chant tragique des cogn&s, occupant 
I’air d’une solennit6 fiinebre, rythmait secretement les battements 
heureux de mon coeur.’" 

But there is no end to the examples which might be 
quoted from the Romantic and Decadent writers on the 
subject of this indissoluble union of the beautiful and the 
sad, on the supreme beauty of that beauty which is ac- 
cursed. Even Victor Hugo, in whose veins certainly did 
not flow the tormented blood of such as Shelley, Keats, 
Flaubert, and Baudelaire, nevertheless solemnly asserted, 
mther in Baudelaire’s manner, the relationship between 
"Beauty and Death. Baudelaire, in his Les deux bonnes 
seeursy had said: 

La D^bauche et la Mort sont deux aimables filles 

Et la bi^re et l’alc6ve en blasphemes f&ondes 
Nous ofFrent tour ^ tour, comme deux bonnes soeurs, 

De terribles plaisirs et d’aflFreuses douceurs. 

And Hugo wrote, in a sonnet of the year 1871 

La Mort et la Beaut^ sont deux choses profondes 
Qui contiennent tant d’ombre et d’azur qu’on dirait 
Deux soeurs ^galement terribles et ftcondes 
Ayant la mSme 6nigme et le mSme secret. 

In fact, to such an extent were Beauty and Death looked 
upon as sisters by the Romantics that they became fused 
into a sort of two-faced herm, filled with corruption and 
melancholy and fatal in its beau ty — a beauty of which, 
the more bitter the taste, the more abimdant the enjoy- 
ment. 

‘In thee did I find the image of the perilous Beauty which 
kindled me and kindles me still, . . . vessel filled with all ills, utter- 
most depth of anguish and guilt, remote cause of infinite strife, 
deathly silence where, drunk with lust and slaughter, the human 
monster, fed upon deceits, roars through the labyrinth of the ages. 
The sublime aspect of the Shadow to which my inspiration is spell- 
bound do I recognise in thee, Hippodamia.’ 



3z THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Thus D’Annunzio^s celebrates the mother of Atreus, 
‘her royal womb filled with terrible fruitfulness’; a Beauty 
which is Death (as in Hugo’s lines), a fatal beauty whose 
attributes in D’Annunzio are the same as in the French 
poet — ‘profonde’ (depth of anguish), ‘terrible’, ‘f^conde’ 
(terrible fruitfulness), ‘qui contient tant d’ombre’ (sublime 
aspect of the Shadow. . .). 

3. It would not be safe to assert that the Romantics 
were the first to feel, as they were certainly the first to 
discuss, this particular kind of beauty. Vauvenargues, in 
the eighteenth century, speaks of a type of libertine who 
finds beauty insipid unless it is flavoured ‘d’un air de cor- 
ruption’ ;*+ but one may be fairly sure that the libertines 
of all periods have found it thus. Anticipations of this 
tendency are to be found in a writer in whom there are 
often certain surprising hints of modernity — ^Diderot, who 
wrote to Sophie Volland: ‘Presque toujours ce qui nuit k 
la beaut6 morale redouble la beauts podtique. On ne fait 
gufere que des tableaux tranquilles et froids avec la vertu; 
c’est la passion et le vice qui animent les compositions du 
peintre, du pofete et du musicien.’ And what else but a 
taste for beauty very analogous to that of the Romantics 
could have inspired the macabre pictures of two German 
painters of the first half of the sixteenth century, Hans 
Baldung Grien and Niklas Manuel Deutsch, pictures in 
which the embrace of Death with a lovely woman has all 
the qualities of the vampirism about which the Romantics 
raved? Or Magnasco’s scenes of torture and flagellation? 

However, let us rather turn our attention (wit&ut leav- 
ing the field of literature) to the one among the poets of 
previous ages whose name the Romantics adored, whom 
Barrfes called*® ‘le plus grand du Midi’ — ^and this praise, 
from such a source, is symptomatic — Torquato Tasso. 

The age of Tasso, it is true, was filled with the spirit of 
Counter-reformation which insisted on the beauty of mar- 
tyrdom for the Faith and adorned the altars of churches 
with gloomy, gory paintings, but it is not without signifi- 
cance that the poetry of Tasso should have reached some 
of its highest peaks in descriptions in which Beauty and 
Death are intimately connected. Even to his eyes pain 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 33 

seemed to throw beauty into relief and martyrdom to 
wring from it accents even more moving. It has been 
rightfully observed*^ that Olindo, bound to the stake be- 
side his beloved, though ostensibly a martyr for the Faith, 
speaks only the language of ardent love and longing. 
Imminent death seems to inspire love with a new thrill, 
and Sofronia, her tender arms bound with cruel cords, as 
she gazes upon her lover with pitiful eyes, appears more 
beautiful and more desirable now that she is threatened 
with martyrdom. Olindo rejoices to be the consort of the 
funeral pyre: 

Ed oh mia morte awenturosa a pieno! 

Oh fortunati miei dolci martiri ! 

S’impetrerh che giunto seno a seno 

L’anima mia ne la tua bocca spiri . . .‘^ 

Would it perhaps be rash to see in these lines the same 
emotion which inspired in Flaubert the more explicit 
words of the Tentation, at the point where the Saint, as he 
flagellates himself, is transported in imagination to the 
side of his beloved, Ammonaria the martyr.? 

‘J’aurais pu 6tre attache k la colonne prb de la tienne, face 
k face, sous tes yeux, r^pondant k tes cris par mes soupirsj et nos 
douleurs se seraient confondues, nos dmes se seraient mfeldes. (II se 
flagelle avec furie). Tiens, tiens! pour toi, encore! — Mais voilk 
qu’un chatouillement me parcourt Quel supplice! quelles d^lices! 
ce sont comme des baisers. Ma moelle se fond! je meurs.’ 

There is an opportune note in the stage direction, 
‘L’ombre des comes du Diable reparait’. Flaubert had 
no illusions about the Christian value of Antony’s act. Nor 
was Chateaubriand deceiving himself when he made Rend 
attribute to Cdluta the words ‘Melons des voluptes a la 
mort.’^® Whether Tasso had illusions about Olindo’s 
feelings cannot be said with certainty. Donadoni, at any 
rate, quite rightly observes that ‘the episode shows a 
fundamental part of the poet’s nature; it was essential for 
him that he should not hesitate to give expression to one 
of the most profound and painful instincts of his soul’. 
He also justly remarks upon the substantial similarity of 



34 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the subject with that of Tancredi, who slays, without 

recognizing her, his beloved Clorinda, the sister — both 

lesser and greater — of Camilla In the Aeneid. In this 

episode, too, tragedy adds a more subtle pathos to 

beauty. 

Ma ecco omai fora fatale e giunta, 

CheT viver di Clorinda al suo fin deve, 

Spinge egli il ferro nel bel sen di punta, 

Che vi s’immerge, e’l sangue avido beve; 

E la veste, che d’6r vago trapunta 
Le mammelle stringea tenera e leve, 

L’empie d’un caldo flume. Ella gik sente 
Morirsi, e’l pib le manca egro e languente. 

Amico, hai vinto: io ti perd6n , . . perdona 
Tu ancora . . . 

In queste voci languide risuona 
Un non so che di flebile e soave 
Ch’al cor gli scende, ed ogni sdegno ammorza, 

E gli occhi a lagrimar gli invoglia e sforza. 

D^un bel pallore ha il bianco volto asperso, 

Come a’gigli sarian miste vTole; 

E gli occhi al cielo affissaj e in lei converso 
Sembra per la pietate il delo eT sole; 

E la man nuda e fredda alzando verso 
II cavaliero, in vece di parole, 

Gli dk pegno di pace. In questa forma 
Passa la bella donna, e par che dorma.^^ 

The full significance of Clorinda's death becomes 
apparent in the light of Erminia’s heartbroken longing to 
be killed by Tancredi. Erminia (Canto VI, stanzas 84-5) 
mingles the ideas of imprisonment and death with that of 
love, in a very characteristic manner: 

E forse or fora qui mio prigioniero, 

E sosterria da la nemica amante 
Giogo di servith dolce e leggiero; 

E giS. per li suoi nodi i’sentirei 
Fatti soavi e alleggeriti i miei. 



35 


THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 
O vero a me da la sua destra il fianco 
Sendo percosso, e riaperto il core. 

Pur risanata in cotal guisa al manco 
Colpo di ferro avria piaga d’Amore: 

Ed or la mente in pace e’l corpo stance 
Riposariansi . • 

And when Erminia at last finds Tancredi again, he 
looks like a dead and bloodless corpse after his duel with 
Argante (Canto XIX, stanzas 104 et seq.): 

Da le pallide labra i freddi bad, 

Che pih caldi sperai, vuo’ pur rapire; 

Parte torr6 di sue ragioni a morte, 

Baciando queste labra esangui e smorte. 

Pietosa bocca . . . 

Lecito sia ch’ora ti stringa, e poi 
Versi lo spirto mio fra i labri tuoi. 

• # • • • 

Rinvenne quegli . . . 

Apri le labra, e con le luci chiuse 
Un suo sospir con que’ di lei confuse.** 

Erminia, the emotional creature drunk with tears, is, as 
has been observed,^ Tasso himself. 

Elsewhere, in the Aminta^ it is Silvia’s beauty which 
derives a subtler charm from the painful state to which the 
satyr has reduced her. Here, too, the lover is found close 
beside his unfortunate mistress, this time not to die with 
her nor to kill her, but to undo the knots with which the 
satyr has bound her to a tree. And, again in the Aminta^ 
there is the scene in which the shepherd, a martyr for love, 
comes back to life beneath Silvia’s kisses, so that his 
suicide 

. . . sotto 

Una dolente imagine di morte 
Gli rec6 vita e gioia.** 

The outward aspect of these subjects — ^martyrdom for 
the Faith (in the case of Olindo and Sofronia), ignorance 
as to the real nature of the adversary (in that of Tancredi 
and Clorinda), defence against the assault of the satyr (in 



36 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

that of Aminta and Silvia) — ^may momentarily obscure the 
source of Tasso’s inspiration which is the same in all these 
episodes — ^an inspiration which can be traced to a peculiar 
sense of painful pleasure closely related to that which we 
shall find in many of the Romantics. 

’Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown 
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain, 

Which humanize and harmonize the strain. 

An examination of Tasso’s own life from this point of 
view might further confirm this theory. Perhaps he ex- 
perienced pleasure at feeling himself a victim, perhaps he 
enjoyed his imprisonment as much as he suffered from it; 
and the stratagem by which he terrified his sister with the 
news of his own death was the act, certainly, of a disturbed 
mind, but may have also been the act of a man who was 
an epicure in pain. 

In such a man as TasSo the delight in pain is obvious 
and characteristic: it is quite obvious also, but less clearly 
stated, in some of the Elizabethan dramatists, especially 
Marlowe and Webster, in whom it was remarked by no 
less competent a judge than Swinburnc.^^* 

4. How much of the seventeenth-century exaltation of 
deformed and suffering female beauty must be ascribed to 
a search for new effects, how much to genuine feeling ?* 
There is no doubt that in many cases the idea was merely 
a matter of intellectual parti pris. When Alessandro 
Adimari cracks a series of ‘jokes and poetical paradoxes 
on the beauty of women who, even in their defects, are yet 
admirable and lovely’^s no one can possibly imagine that 
his feelings are serious. Adimari’s sole aim was, evidently, 
to astonish his readers by showing how a defect may be 
twisted into a merit, and his beauty competition is simply 
a kind of handicap race. But even if this playful spirit — 
which is really the same as that which inspired Berni to 
write some of his capitoli in praise of things despicable 
and harmful — ^is to be found at the bottom of all the 
seventeenth-century gallantries on deformed and suffering 
female beauty, the fact remains that in some cases the idea 
may have sprung from some undefined but genuine feeling, 
from some new kind of thrill. The subject of the beauty 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 37 

of maturity and actually of old age, which is at least as old 
as the Greek Anthology (V, 258 : ‘Thy autumn excels 
others* spring, thy winter is more warm than others’ 
summer’), is taken up by, among others, Tasso (to 
Lucrezia d’Este),^^ ana by John Donne (to Magdalen 
Herbert),27 and is indeed not so eccentric as to be 
suspected of insincerity. No more was Achillini’s well- 
known sonnet on a lovely beggar-woman a mere joke or a 
paradox: 

Sciolta il crin, rotta i panni, e nuda il piede 
Donna, cui fe’lo Ciel povera e bella, 

Con fioca voce, e languida favella 
Mendicava per Dio poca mercede — 

this sonnet was immensely popular and was also imitated 
abroad.^9 Achillini even wrote a sonnet on a Beautiful 
Epileptic (Bellissima SpirUata\ in which he admires ‘so 
fair a countenance made lodging for Furies’; and several 
poets wrote on the theme of the Whipped Courtesan, 
among others A. G. Brignole-Sale in the Instabilita del- 
ringegno 

La man, che ne le dita ha le quadrella, 

Con duro laccio al molle tergo e avvolta; 

L’onta a celar, ch’e ne le guance accolta, 

Spande il confuso crin ricca procella. 

Su ’1 dorso, ove la sferza empia flagella, 

Grandine di rubini appar disciolta; 

Gik dal livor la candidezza e tolta, 

Ma men Candida ancor, non e men bella. 

Su quel tergo il mio cor spiega le piume, 

E per pieta di lui gi^ tutto esangue, 

Ricever le ferite in se presume. 

In quelle piaghe agonizzando ei langue; 

Ma non si serba il solito costume, 

Che’l sangue al cor, non corre il core al sangue.^* 

Three other sonnets follow this, and then he pursues 
his narrative as follows : 

‘Carlo won praise as a courteous scourger, since those lines were 
such exquisite lashes; and every one professed eagerness to be so 
whipped, /^?r the strokes seemed to impart more beauty than painJ* 



38 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Among English writers Lovelace wrote on the same 
theme, adding a sting of impiety. To the courtesan, start- 
ing on her way to do penance, he says:^^ 

And as thy bare feet blesse the Way 
The people doe not mock, but pray. 

And call thee as amas’d they run 
Instead of prostitute, a Nun.* 

^ Many of these themes of tainted beauty appear in the 
writings of the Romantics, but what was often, in the 
seventeenth-century writers, a mere intellectual pose, be- 
came, in the Romantics, a pose of sensibility. In the 
Romantics feeling takes the place of the ‘conceit’ of the 
seventeenth century. A poet such as Adimari may indulge 
in a play of wit on the beauty of a hunchback, a negress, a 
mad woman, or a woman already buried, but one may be 
certain that he would never have sought to give material 
form to these grotesques and whimseys of his imagination. 
^ Romantic, on the other hand, tries to translate these 
wanderings of the imagination into actual life, or at least 
to give an indication of some basis of real experience. 
Besides, while in the seventeenth century the appearance 
of these themes was sporadic and eccentric, and writers 
adopted them more in the way of a happy thought than 
from any emotional curiosity (which is clear from Adimari, 
with his more or less exhaustive list of defects), with the 
Romantics the same themes fitted naturally into the 
general taste of the period, which tended towards the un- 
controlled, the macabre, the terrible, the strange. Marino 
emphasized the element of Surprise, which, he said, 
should be the poet’s aim: he discovered new spheres of the 
unusual and the strange, like a mathematician who works 
out the results of a series of equations, and his object was 
simply to astonish his reader’s mind. Very different is 
Baudelaire’s tone when he enunciates an apparently 
similar principle: 

Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe ? 

Au fond de I’inconnu pour trouver du nouveau. 

Baudelaire does not aim at astonishing the reader's 
^ind, but rather at shocking his moral sense, and if, often. 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 39 

he is like an actor reciting his part in front of a mirror, he 
is nevertheless an actor who is half, and sometimes more 
than half, convinced of his part. 

I have already mentioned a sonnet by Achillini on a 
Beautiful Epileptic: 

Lk nel mezzo del Tempio a I’improwiso 
Lidia traluna gli occhi, e tiengli immoti, 

E mirano i miei lumi a lei devoti 
Fatto albergo di furie un si bel viso.®^ 

A beautiful epileptic is also the idol of Boulay-Paty’s 
Elie Mariaker: 

Rose et pale soudain, la jeune fille frHe 

Qui tombe du haut mal, ^me forte et corps gr^le, 

Je I’aimerais surtout k I’adoration! 

Cette beauts souffrante, oh! voilk mon envie! 

When he goes into ecstasies over the ‘regard enrag^’ of 
his cousin, and adores her for being 

Un d^mon de velours, une pensionnaire. 

Belle de deux d^Auts, grHe et poitrinaire; 

or when Barbey d’Amevilly, in his early tale called Lea 
(1832), describes Reginald’s love for the consumptive 
Lda in these terms : 

‘ “Mais si ! si 1 ma L&i, tu es belle, tu es la plus belle des cr&tures ! 
Je ne te donnerais pas, toi, tes yeux battus, ta p&leur, ton corps 
malade, je ne les donnerais pas pour la beautd des anges dans le 
ciel.” Et ces yeux battus, cette p^eur, ce corps makde, il les 
4treignait dans tous ses rfeves des enlacements de sa pens6e frdndtique 
et sensuelle.... Cette mourante dont il touchait le vStement, le 
brulait comme la plus ardente des femmes. Il n’y avait pas de 
bayadere aux bords du Gange, pas d’odalisque dans les baignoires 
de Stamboul, il n’y aurait point eu de bacchante nue dont I’dtreinte 
eht fait plus bouillonner la moelle de ses os que le contact, le simple 
contact de cette main fr61e et fi^vreuse dont on sentait la moiteur 
a travels le gant qui la couvrait’;^* 

both of them are far from intending a joke or a paradox 
in the manner of Adimari : in fact, all round them in every- 
day life fashionable beauties were studying in every 
ptsSsible way to appear adorned with those adorable 



40 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

defects. Again Elie Mariaker seems almost to be copying 
Donne’s conceits on the subject of autumnal beauty when 
he declares that he abhors fresh, chubby faces, because 
‘la mer s’^tire et se ride quand il y a un orage’. This seems 
a rampant concetto^ but its tone is quite different from that 
of a seventeenth-century conceit — different, because the 
poet’s appeal is not to the mind, but to the senses. It was 
the fashion, then, to affect a real, genuine taste for such 
beauty as was threatened with disease or actually decaying. 
One would write lines upon corpses: 

Le nenuphar est beau prfe de ta chair bleuie, 

Livide, et que d(5vore urt grand reptile vert, 

or expatiate in these words on the beauty of approaching 
death: 

‘De legbres veines bleues marquent de leurs fines arabesques sa 
peau mate, trace sombre des baisers que lui a d6jk donn& la Mort, 
la Mort, k qui elle appartiendra peut-Stre bientbt, elle que j’aime 
jusqu’Ji I’affolement. 

‘Dans son visage pile et quelquefois livide, ses yeux brillent 
comme des flammes, et les lueurs phosphorescentes qui sortent de 
leurs orbites d6charnees ressemblent aux feux follets que par les soirs 
orageux d’ete I’on voit errer sur les mar&ages oil pourrissent des 
choses pestilentielles. 

‘Autour de sa bouche flottent des teintes nacr6es et bleuitres, 
comme sur un fruit qui sentirait les premieres atteintes de la d^ 
composition. ... Et je I’aime pour tout le mystbre de mort qu’elle 
recble, pour le 83mxbole vivant qu’elle est k mes yeux de I’universelle 
destruction, je I’aime pour sa grice fun^raire, et comme une belle 
amphore, effil4e et gracile, placee sur un tomWu. . . .’^s 

^ Lovely beggar-maids, seductive hags, fascinating 
negresses, degraded prostitutes — all these subjects, which 
the writers of the seventeenth century had treated light- 
heartedly and as jeux d'espriti are to be found again, but 
impregnated with the bitter taste of reality, in the Roman- 
tics, and especially in the poet in whom the Romantic 
Muse distilled her most subtle poisons — Baudelaire. 

Here is the ‘mendiante rousse’, remote sister of Achil- 
lini’s ‘bellissima mendica’: she is a person who really 
existed, having inspired an ode by Theodore de Banville 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 41 

{A une petite chanteuse des ruei)^ a portrait by de Roy {JLa 
petite guitariste)^ and this little ode by Baudelaire: 

Blanche fille aux cheveux roux 
Dont la robe par ses trous 
Laisse voir la pauvrete 
Et la beaut^j 

Pour moi, poite ch^tif, 

Ton jeune corps maladif 
Plein de taches de rousseur 
A sa douceur. 

Va done, sans autre ornement, 

Parfum, perles, diamant, 

Que ta maigre nudit^, 

O ma beauts ! 

Achiliini concluded in the same manner: 

Che se vaga sei tu d’altro tesoro, 

China la ricca e preziosa testa, 

Che pioveran le chiome i nembi d^oro.^^ 

But in Baudelaire the idea had been realized in an actual 
experience, and the ‘taches de rousseur', instead of sug- 
gesting cold mythological comparisons, as in Adimari's 
sonnet on the ‘beautiful freckled one' (for Adimari had 
foreseen even this case), touch an answering chord of the 
emotions. 

And here is Sarah Louchette, the squinting little 
Jewess, distant relation of the ‘bella guercia' (the squint- 
eyed beauty) and also of the ‘bella calva' (the bald-headed 
beauty) of the seventeenth century (these also are to be 
found in Adimari), who inspired in Baudelaire, then a 
student at the lycee^ these lines: 

Je n’ai pas pour mattresse pne lionne illustre. 

La gueuse, de mon &mt emprunte tout son lustre. 

Insensible aux regards de I’univers moqueur, 

Sa beaut^ ne fleurit que dans mon triste coeur. 

Vice beaucoup plus grave, elle porte perruque, 

Tous ses beaux cheveux noirs ont fui sa blanche nuque, 

Ce qui n’empSche pas les baisers amoureux 

De pleuvoir sur son front plus pel6 qu’un 16preux. 



42 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Elle louche et Teffet de ce regard etrange, 

Qu’ombragent des cils noirs plus longs que ceux d’un ange, 
Est tel que tous les yeux, pour qui Ton s’est damne, 

Ne valent pas pour moi son oeil juif et cerne. 

Elle n’a que vingt ans, la gorge deja basse 
Pend de chaque cote, comme une calebasse, 

Et pourtant, me tralnant chaque nuit sur son corps, 

Ainsi qu’un nouveau-ne, je la tette et la mords. 

Je la leche en silence, avec plus de ferveur 
Que Madeleine en feu les deux pieds du Sauveur. 

Si vous la rencontrez bizarrement paree, 

Se faufilant, au coin d’une rue egarfe, . . . 

Messieurs, ne crachez pas de jurons ni d’ordure 
Au visage farde de cette pauvre impure 
Que ddesse Famine a, par un soir d’hiver, 

Contrainte k relever ses jupons en plein air. 

Cette boheme-I^, c’est mon tout, ma richesse, 

Ma perle, mon bijou, ma reine, ma duchesse, 

Celle qui m’a berce sur son giron vainqueur 
Et qui dans ses deux mains a rechauffe mon coeur. 

We find also in Baudelaire the ‘skeleton-like beauty', 
ythe Nymphe macabre 

Tu n’es certes pas, ma tr^ chere, 

Ce que Veuillot nomme un^tendron 

Tu n’es plus fratche, ma tres chere, 

Ma vieille infante! Et cependant 
Tes caravanes insensfes 
T’ont donne ce lustre abondant ' 

Des choses qui sont trfes usees 
Mais qui s^duisent cependant. 

Je ne trouve pas monotone 
La verdeur de tes quarante ans, 

Je prefere tes fruits, Automne, 

Aux fleurs banales du Printemps! 

Non, tu n^es pas monotone 1 



43 


THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 

Ta carcasse a des agrements 
Et des graces particulieres; 

Je trouve d’^tranges piments 
Dans le creux de tes deux salieres; 

Ta carcasse a des agrements! 

Tes yeux qui semblent de la boue 
Oti scintille quelque fanal, 

Ravives au fard de ta joue, 

Lancent un eclair infernal! . . 

Even if Baudelaire is here seen ^petrarquisant sur 
rhorrible’ (as Sainte-Beuve wrote to him) in a more or less 
seventeenth-century strain, and even if the flavour of 
mystification is unmistakable in the stories of love- 
affairs with dwarfs and giantesses which he delighted to 
relate to Madame de Molenes,^^ it is yet none the less true 
that his sense of beauty was eminently ‘Medusean\ His 
statements in Choix de maximes consolantes sur V amour 
show very clearly the curious psychological process of 
such eccentric love-affairs, and can be generally applied to 
many other Romantics also : 

‘Je suppose votre idole malade. Sa beaut6 a disparu sous I’afFreuse 
croute de la petite verole, comme la verdure sous les lourdes glaces 
de rhiver. Encore 6mu par les longues angoisses et les alternatives 
de la maladie, vous contemplez avec tristesse le stigmate inefia^able 
sur le corps de la chere convalescente; vous entendez subitement 
r&onner k vos oreilles un air mourant execute par Tarchet d^lirant 
de Paganini, et cet air sympathique vous parle de vous-mfeme, et 
semble vous raconter tout votre pobme interieur d’esp^rances per- 
dues, — Dfes lors, les traces de petite verole feront partie de votre 
bonheur et chanteront toujours k votre regard attendri Pair myste- 
rieux de Paganini. Elies seront d&ormais non seulement un objet 
de douce sympathie, mais encore de volupte physique, si toutefois 
vous fetes un de ces esprits sensibles pour qui la beaute est hpromesse 
du bonheur. C’est surtout Tassociation des idees qui fait aimer les 
laidesj car vous risquez fort, si votre maltresse grfelfee vous trahit, 
de ne pouvoir vous consoler qu’avec une femme grfelee. 

‘Pour certains esprits plus curieux et plus biases, la jouissance de 
la laideur provient d’un sentiment encore plus mystferieux, qui est la 
soif de rinconnu, et le gout de Phorrible. C’est ce sentiment, dont 
chacun porte en soi le germe plus ou moins developpfe, qui prfecipite 
certains ooetes dans les amohithfe^tres et les cliniaues, et les femmes 



44 the romantic AGONY 

aux executions publiques, Je plaindrais vivement qui ne compren- 
drait pasj — une harpe k qui manquerait une corde grave! . . * II y 
a des gens qui rougissent d’avoir aime une femme, le jour qu’ils 
s*aper 9 oivent qu’elle est b€te. ... La bfetise est souvent Tornement de 
la beaute; c’est elle qui donne aux yeux cette limpidite morne des 
etangs noiritres, et ce calme huileux des mers tropicales.’ 

This passage, it has been said, throws a sufficient light 
on what was Baudelaire’s greatest erotic adventure — with 
the ‘beautiful negress’, Jeanne Duval. Beautiful she was, 
it seems, at least in Baudelaire’s opinion, and stupid in 
everybody’s opinion, including Baudelaire’s. The ‘beauti- 
ful slave’ of Marino, nigra and Jormosa like the woman in 
the Song of Songs — 

Nera si, ma se’bella, o di natura 

Fra le belle d’amor leggiadro mostro; 

Fosca h I’alba appo te . , 

and the beautiful negress of Adimari — 

Negra si, ma se’bella, e chi nol crede 
Di tenebre ammantato il ciel rimiri, 

Tu con due sole stelle incendio spiri, 

Ei con molt’occhi appena arder si vede . . 

seem almost to be anticipations of the one of whom 
Baudelaire wrote: 

C’est Elle! noire et pourtant lumineuse,^^ 

and also : 

Je t’adore k I’^gal de la voflte nocturne, 

O vase de tristesse, 6 grande taciturne, 

Et t’aime d’autant plus, belle, que tu me fuis, 

Et que tu me parais, ornement de mes nuits, 

Plus ironiquement accumuler les lieues 
Qui sdparent mes bras des immensitfe bleues. 

Je m’avance k I’attaque, et je grimpe aux assauts, 

Comme apr& un cadavre un choeur de vermisseaux, 

Et je cheris, 6 bfete implacable et cruelle! 

Jusqu’k cette froideur par oh tu m’es plus belle! 

. There is in this poem, on the one hand, a supreme power 
of abstraction (‘Je t’adore a I’dgal de la vofite nocturne’), 
and, on the other, a taste for the unclean which suggests 
images of a subterranean world of decay (‘comme apr&s un 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 45 

cadavre un choeur de vermisseaux’) — ^the great synthesis, 
as Flaubert would call it. The latter may be referred to 
here for some remarks very similar to those of Baudelaire 
quoted above: 

‘Et quand ce ne serait que le costume impudent, la tentation 
de la chimfere, I’inconnu, le caractere maudh, la vicille po&ie de la 
corruption et de la v6naIitA’+* 

To this evidence may be added that of the Goncourts 

*La passion des choses ne vient pas de la bontd ou de la beaut^ 
pure de ces choses, elle vient surtout de leur corruption. On aimera 
follement une femme, pour sa putinerie, pour la mechancetd de son 
esprit, pour la voyoucratie de sa t6te, de son coeur, de ses sens; on 
aura le goiit d6r6gle d’une mangeaille pour son odeur avanc6e et qui 
pue. Au fond, ce qui fait I’appassioimement: c’est le faisandage des 
fetres et des choses.’ 

Baudelaire looks upon landscape with the same feelings. 
He gave the world some well-known pictures of the Paris 
he loved, all hospitals, brothels, purgatory, hell, anguish 
without end: 

Oh toute enormity fleurit comme une lleur. 

Je voulais m’enivrer de I’^norme catin 

Dont le charme infernal me rajeunit sans cesse . . . 

Je t’aime, 6 capitale inSme! Courtisanes 
Et bandits, tels souvent vous ofFrez des plaisirs 
Que ne comprennent pas les vulgaires profenes.'*® 

The tendency in French painting both of the last cen- 
tury and up to our own day, to portray aspects of landscape 
which are tortured and violated by man, comes from these 
same ‘discoveries’ of Baudelaire. 

Beauty of the Medusa, beloved by the Romantics, 
Beauty tainted with pain, corruption, and death — ^we shall 
find it again at the end of the century, and we shall see it 
then illumined with the smile of the Gioconda.^* 



NOTES TO CHAPTER I 

* Shelley’s translation. Goethe’s feeling for the beauty of the Medusa 
receives further illustration from Italimische Reise^ Zweiter Teil, April 
1788: . . ein guter alter Abguss der Medusa Rondanim; ein wundersames 
Werk, das, den Zwiespalt zwischen Tod und Leben, zwiscken Schmerz 
und Wollust ausdrOckend, einen unnennbaren Retz 'ivie irgendein anderes 
Problem uber uns ausiibt.’ 

2 This will be explained in chapter iii. 

3 For symptoms of this taste for the Horrid see D. Mornet, Le Roman^ 
time en France au XFIIP siec/e (Paris, Hachette, 1912), chap, i, ‘Les 
premiers remous’, and chap, iii, Tes ‘‘grands ^branlements de I’tme”’. 
Especially p. 8, Baculard d’Arnaud: 

‘II cst des volupt^ de tout genre, des douleurs qui ont leurs charmes, leurs 
transports, leurs d^lices. Qu*il est de plaisirs pour les imes sensibles! . . . Que les 
yeux d’une amante sont ravissants, adorables, lorsqu’ils sont couverts de lannesi 
Le coeur s’y baigne tout entier.* 

Pp. 78-9, Brissot: 

‘J’aime la terreur que m’inspire une forSt obscure et ces caveaux lugubres oh 
Ton ne rencontre que des ossements et des tombeaux. J’aime le sifHement des 
vents qui annonce forage, ces arbres agit6s, ce tonnerre qui delate ou gronde, et 
les torrents de pluie qui roulent k grands hots. ... II y a pour moi dans cet 
instant un charme horrible.* 

^ Correspondancey Edition du Centenaire, vol. ii, p. 17.* 

^ To a Skylark, ^ La Nutt de mat, ^ U Imm oralis te^ p. 108. 

8 Corresp.y vol. ii, p. 16, letter of March 27th, 1853. Certain works 
of ‘decadenV literature, such as Le Jar din des supplices by Octave Mir beau, 
are merely diffuse illustrations of this same mode of feding. 

® (Euvres posthumes (Paris, Mercure de France, 1908), p. 84; Jour- 
naux intmesy edited by A. van Bever (Paris, Cr^s, 1920), pp. 18-20. 
Poe also, from whom Baudelaire learned so much, has an analogous idea 
(of beauty. Cf. especially Ligeia (Baudelaire’s version): 

‘Ses traits n’^taient pas jet^ dans ce moule r^guHer qu’on nous a faussement 
enseign^ k r^v6rer dans les ouvrages classiques du paganisme. “II n*y a pas de 
beaute exquise”, dit Lord Verulam, parlant avec justesse de toutes les formes et 
de tons les genres de beaut^, “sans une certaine 6tranget6 dans les proportions”.* 
Cf. L. Seylaz, Edgar Roe et les premiers symbolistes frangais (Lausanne, 
Imprimerie La Concorde, 1923), p. 70. Baudelaire, however, goes much 
further than Poe in his definition.* 

10 (Euvres postkumeSy p. 319, on the subject of Byron. 

A similar feeling with regard to landscape in D’Annunzio’s Villa 
Chigi {Elegie Romani) culminates in an obviously sadistic vision: 

‘But we were both startled, hearing the sound of an axe: repeated blows 
suddenly echoed around us. . . . She, all at once, as though wounded, burst into 
sobs: she burst into desperate tears and I saw her in my mind, as though in a 
lightning-flash, I saw her humble and bleeding, humbly gasping, prostrate in a 
pool of blood, and raising suppliant hands from the lake of red; and she said 
with her eyes, “I did you no harm”.* 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 47 

*2 Toute la lyre^ 1893, v, xxvi; Dea\ moriturus te saiutat. The 
sonnet, dedicated to Judith Gautier, bears the date ‘12 juillet’ (1871). 
It finishes with a conceit in the seventeenth-century manner: 

Nous sommes tous les deux voisins du ciel, madame, 

Puisque vous etes beUe et puisque je suis vieux. 

It is curious to discover echoes of Baudelaire in lines written by Hugo 
in his old age. Thus, in the first poem in Part VI of Toute la iyre^ from 
the tenderly bourgeois effusions of the poet to his lady: 

0 bel Itre cr 66 pour des spheres meiUeures, 

Dis, apr^ tant de deuils, de d^sespoirs, d*ennuis, 

Et tant d’amers chagrins et tant de tristes heures — 
we plunge all at once straight into Spleea: 

‘Qui souvent font tes jours plus mornes que des nuits.’ 

(Cf. T1 nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits’.) Cf. also Part II, 
XX, Nuit tomhante (*Vois le soir qui descend calme et silencieux’) with 
Recueillement, 

The quatrain by Hugo quoted in the text was remodelled in this way 
by Jean Lorrain (see G. Normandy, Jean Lorrain, Paris, Bibl. gendrale 
d’fiditions, undated, p. 265): 

La Ddbauche et la Mort sont deux choses profondes, 

Si pleines de tdndbres et d*azur qu*on dirait 
Deux soeurs dgalement terribles et fdcondes 
Ayant la mdme enigme et le mSme secret. 

^3 Laus Vitae y lines 2169-84. 

CEuvres de Fauvenargues, published by D.-L. Gilbert, 1855, t. i, 
p. 246, quoted by A. Monglond, Le Friromanttsme frangais^ (Grenoble, 
Arthaud, 1930), vol. i, p. 201. As reference is made in this book to ‘algo- 
lagnia’ simply in so far as it has inspired works of literature, we are not 
taking into account anecdotes of algolagnic nature referred to by ancient 
authors merely as part of a chronicle. E.g. Brant6me, Vies des dames 
galantes^ Discours II: ‘J’ay ouy parler d’une grande dame de par le monde’. 
See.; Giraldi Cinthio, EcatommitM, Deca V, novella x (Riccio Lagnio’s 
typical case of sadism and necrophily). 

IS Amori ac dolori sacrum ^ p. 96. 

Donadoni, Torquato Tasso, vol. i, p. 234. 

17 Literal translation: 

‘And ah! my death, fortunate to the full! Ah, happy my sweet martyrdom! 
If I obtain that, joined with thee breast to breast, I may exhale my soul into thy 
mouth. . • .’ 

See chap, iii, § 7. 

Lit. trans.: 

‘But lo, now the fatal hour is arrived that the life of Clorinda must to its end. 
He thrusts the point of the steel into her fair bosom: it sinks deep and greedily 
drinks her blood $ and her garment, which, embroidered with fair gold, gently 
and lightly enfolds her breasts, is filled with the warm stream. Already she feels 
she is dying, and her feet, weak and languishing, fail to support her. . . . “Friend, 
thou hast conquered: I pardon thee . . . pardon thou me again.” ... In these lan- 
guid words echoes something mournful and sweet, which pierces to his heart, 



48 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

and extinguishes all resentment, and excites and compels his eyes to weep. . . . 
Her white face is overspread with a lovely pallor, as though violets were mingled 
with lilies: she fixes her gaze upon the sky 5 and sky and sun seem turned towards 
her with pity: and raising her bare, cold hand towards the knight, she gives him, 
instead of words, the pledge of peace. In this manner passed the fair lady, and it 
seemed that she slept.* 

Lit. trans.: 

‘Perhaps even now he might be my prisoner here, and would sustain his 
loving foe’s sweet and light yoke of servitude: already, through his bonds, I 
would feel my own made kinder and lighter. Or else, should his right hand have 
smitten my own side, and opened again my heart, the wound of the steel would 
at least have healed in such wise Love’s wound: my mind and my weary body 
would rest at last in peace.’ 

Lit. trans.: 

‘ “From his pale lips cold kisses, which I longed to feel more ardent, do I yet 
wish to snatch} I will wrest from death part of its rights by kissing these wan and 
bloodless lips. . . , Piteous mouth. . . . Allow me now to embrace thee and then 
to pour out my spirit between thy lips.” ... He came back to life ... he opened 
his lips, and with eyes closed mingled a sigh with hers.* 

22 Donadoni, op. cit., i, p. 260. 

23 Lit. trans.: ‘ . beneath a mournful image of death brought to him 
^ife and joy.^ 

24 In his essay on The Early English Dramatists (1857) Swinburne 
notices in these two the presence of the ‘hideous lust of pain’. It is less 

^evident in Marlowe — ^‘There is in Marlowe a suspicion of this fatal ten- 
dency’. See my essay on ‘Christopher Marlowe’ in English Studies^ 
vol, xiii, no. 6 (December 1931), pp. 209-23, chiefly pp. 211-13. 

25 La Tersicore^ 0 vero scherziy ecc. Opera del Big, Alessandro Adimari, 
ridotta in 50 sonetti fondati principalmente sopra Pautorith d^A. Seneca il 
Morale, e concatenati in un capitolo, ... (In Fiorenza, Massi e Landi, 1637). 

26 Rime (Solerti), iii, p. 131. 27 The AutumnalL 

2* Barefoot and ragged, with neglected hair. 

She whom the Heavens at once made poor and fair, 

With humble voice and moving words did stay. 

To beg an alms of all who pass’d that way. 

(Philip Ayres’s translation in Lyric Poems, made in imitation of the 
Italians, &c., London, 1687.) 

29 By Tristan I’Hermite, by Richard Lovelace ifThe Faire Begger), 
and by Philip Ayres {On a Fair Beggar), See my article on ‘Stanley, 
Sherburne, and Ayres as translators and imitators of Italian, Spanish and 
French Poets’, in Modern Language Review, vol. xx, nos. 3 and 4, July 
and October 1925, pp. 420 and 423. 

39 Brignole-Sale was typical of the seventeenth century. After alternat- 
ing lascivious with pious writings, when his wife died he gave himself up 
entirely to religion, entered the Order of the Jesuits, and practised such 
severe flagellations that he often had to be rebuked by his fellow-priests 
for his over-harsh governance of the flesh. He offers a ready subject for 



THE BEAUTY OF THE MEDUSA 49 

a biographte romancie^ especially as Van Dyck immortalized his beautiful, 
melancholy features and those of his voluptuous wife in two magnificent 
pictures, which are now in the Palazzo Rosso at Genoa. Such a character- 
portrait was attempted by G. Portigliotti in Penombre Ciaustrali (Milan, 
Treves, 1930), pp. 205-50. What a pity Barr^s did not come across this 
subject ! All the more so, since Brignole-Sale was ambassador at Madrid, 
where a son of his died of an epileptic fit. As can be easily seen, no element 
was wanting to inspire the author of Du Sang, de la vohpti, de la mort, 

31 Lit. trans.: 

‘The hand which holds Love’s arrows in its fingers is twisted by cruel bonds 
behind her tender back; to conceal the shame which has gathered in her cheeks, 
her tangled hair scatters its rich storm. On her back, where the pitiless whip 
lashes her, a scattered hail of rubies appears; already the whiteness becomes livid, 
but though less white it is no less lovely. Upon that back my heart spreads its 
wings, and, all bloodless as it now is for pity of it, takes upon itself to receive 
the blows. My heart languishes in the agony of those wounds; but the usual 
custom is not observed, by which the blood runs to the heart, not the heart to 
the blood.* 

32 A Guiltlesse Lady imprisoned, after penanced, 

33 Lit. trans.: 

‘There, suddenly, in the middle of the Temple, Lydia casts up her eyes and 
keeps them motionless, and my eyes, which adore her, wonder at so fair a face 
made lodging for Furies.’ 

34 Cf. the edition quoted in note 47 of chap, v. The love of Reginald 
for Lea ends in a manner which, to a Romantic of 1 8 30, must have appeared 
exquisitely tragic. When the young man kisses her for the first time, she dies: 
‘Le sang du coeur avait inondd les poumons et monte dans la bouche de L^a, 
qui, yeux clos et t^te pendante, le vomissait encore, quoiqu’elle ne fut 
plus qu’un cadavre.’ 

35 See L. Maigron, Le Romantisme et les maeurs (Paris, Champion, 1910) 
pp. 1 80 et seq. Maigron observes rightly that the expressions in the prose 
poem quoted above reflect a conception of beauty similar to that of Poe. 

3* Nature on thee has all her treasures spread, 

Do but incline thy rich and pretious head, 

And those fair locks shall pour down showres of gold. 

(Ayres’s translation.) 

37 (Eupres postkumes, p. 34. There is evidence here and there of this 
taste for the Cadaverous even in previous periods. E.g. in the Mlmoires de 
Tilly (Paris, Jonqui^res, 1930), ii, p. 191, there is to be found this anecdote, 
relating to the year 1789: 

‘Sir John Lambert, que tout le monde a vu banquier tr^s opulent k Paris . , . 
n’aimait que les femmes d’une maigreur dangereuse, et chez qui toute absence de 
gorge eflt pu faire r^voquer leur sexe en doute. . . . J’y trouvai rang^ sur ses 
fauteuils une collection de momies. . . . C’^tait tout ce qu’il y avait de plus 
ddcham^ dans les ballets de I’Op^ra, et de plus voisin du squelette dans le rang 
des courtisanes subalternes. . . . (Un seul de ses amis) partageait son gofit de 
i’ost^ologie prise sur le fait dans la nature vivante.* 

38 Le Gaulois, Sept. 30th, i886. See A. Seche et J. Bertaud, La Vie 



50 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

anecdotlque it pittoresque des grands dcrwains, Charles Baudelaire (Paris, 

Louis-Michaud, undated), p. 126. 

39 The definition is StendhaPs. 

40 Lit. trans.: 

‘Black thou art, but beautiful, O thou, Love’s charming monster among 
nature’s Beauties; dark is the dawn near thee. . . / 

41 Lit. trans.: 

‘Black thou art, but beautiful, and whoever does not believe it, let him con- 
template the sky clad in darkness; thou with but two stars dost breathe forth 
fire, the sky with many eyes can scarcely be seen to bum. . . .* 

42 UnFant 6 meyl^LesTlnehres,vestsiono£i% 6 i. The definitive version 
(1868) has: C’est Elle! sombre et pourtant lumineuse’. 

43 Corresp. ii, p. 55 (June ist, 1853). 

44 Journal^ iii, p. 63 (Aug. 30th, 1866). 

45 epilogue of the Petits polmes en prose. Cf, chap, v, § 8. Recent 
illustrations of this same type of feeling are to be found, for instance, in 
the novel by Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Fenedig(i()i 3), a subtle analysis of 
the soul of an artist, Aschenbach, who derives a painful pleasure from his 
impossible passion for a beautiful Polish youth, in the oppressive and 
deathly atmosphere of Venice smitten by cholera; also in the conclusion of 
Ju Coin des rues by F. Carco (Paris, Ferenczi, 1930), under the tide of 
Venus des carrefours: 

‘Vdnus des carrefours, efflanqude, mauvaise et maquill^, aux cheveux en 
casque, aux yeux vides qui ne regardent pas, mais aux fevres plus rouges que le 
sang et que la langue mince caresse, tu m’as connu flairant Tombre que tu 
laissais derrite toi. Me void — comme autrefois — d^vore du tourment cruel de 
te rencontrer au coin de basses ruelles oil la lumi^re fard6e des persiennes coule le 
long des murs. . . . Tu n’aurais qu’k me citer les rues de la Ville et je te dirais 
qu’k tel toge de vieilles prostitutes attendent I’homme qu’elles fouetteront et 
dont elles fouleront la chair, avec les hauts talons de leurs bottines et les langues 
minces et delites d’un martinet cruel. 

‘Donnant sur des cours noires dont les dalles toujours mouilltes blanchissent 
k de lointains reflets du jour, des loges ttroites regoivent des couples qui, jusqu’k 
la nuit, s’achameront k souffrir . . . Venus, ta nuditt d’ivoire, vtntneuse et fleurie 
d’images symboliques, hante mes longs aprts-midis d’hiver. Que d’instants j’ai 
passts, devant le feu qui rougcoyait, k me rappeler ton visage et le grand rire 
silendeux qui te tordait la bouche. Le jour brumeux restait suspendu Pair 
et, quelquefois, le cri des remorqueurs, montant du fleuve, arrttait ma vie. . . . 
Vtnus, n’ttais-tu pas cette poupte, sans cheveux, ni dents, peinte et sans voix ? . . . 
D’horribles et lentes voluptts m’ont attacht sur toi* Masque effrayant, tes yeux 
de pldtre avaient vieillil’ 

46 D^Annunzio in the poem Gorgon (published in the Domenica Let- 
teraria — Cronaca Bizantina of Aug. 23rd, 1885, vrith the title of 11 
Paradiso PerdutOy later in Isaotta Guttadduro^ 1886) attributes the smile 
of the Gioconda to alh^ of typically Medusa-like-^beauty/ /\ 

‘Diffused over her face the pallor which I adcy^ij . . . Upon her mouth 
was the glorious, cruel smile which the divine Leonardo pursued in his pamtings. 
This smile was in sad combat with the sweetness of the long eyes, and gave a 
superhuman charm to the beauty of the heads of women which the great da 
Vind loved. The mouth was a dolorous flower. . . ,* 



CHAPTER II 

THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 


y*at trowvi hx definition du Beau, de mon Beau. (Test quelque chose 
d" ardent et de triste. . . .Jene congois gukre un type de Beaute oil il ny ait 
du Malheur. Appuyesur — d'autres diraient: ohside par — ces idees, on con-- 
goit qtCtl me seratt dijfictle de ne pas conclure que le plus parfcat type de 
Beaute <vinle est Satan — ala manthre de Mtlton. 

BAUDELAIRE, Joumaux intimcs. 




CHAPTER II 

THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 

I. Even at as late a date as the Gerusalemme Liber ata 
Satan keeps his terrifying medieval mask, like that of a 
Japanese warrior: 

Orrida maestk nel fero aspetto 
Terrore accresce, e piti superbo il rende; 

Rosseggian gli occhi, e di veneno infetto, 

Come infausta cometa, il guardo splende; 

Gl’involge il mento, e su Pirsuto petto 
Ispida e folta la gran barba scendej 
E in guisa di voragine profonda 
S’apre la bocca d’atro sangue immonda, 

Qual i fumi sulfurei ed infiammati 
Escon di Mongibello, e’l puzzo e’l tuono, 

Tal de la fera bocca i negri jfiati, 

Tale il fetore e le faville sono.^ 

Satan’s appearance in the Strage degU Innocenti of 
Marino is rather similar: 

Negli occhi, ove mestizia alberga e morte. 

Luce fiammeggia torbida e vermiglia. 

Gli sguardi obliqui e le pupille torte 
Sembran comete, e lampadi le ciglia. 

E da le nari e da le labra smorte 
Caligine e fetor vomita e figlia; 

Iracondi, superbi e disperati, 

Tuoni i gemiti son, folgori i fiati,^ 

One might think that Marino was simply making a 
copy, with a certain added emphasis, of Tasso’s grotesque 
monster. Yet he has introduced one new element. The 
asphyxiating gases, the artificial fires, are borrowed from 
Tasso’s arsenal (the contents of which, in their turn, can 
easily be traced to yet other sources) ; but into the eyes of 
the Demon, the eyes of which Tasso had said: 

Quant^e ne gli occhi lor terrore t morte,^ 

there has been put a new expression: 

Negli occhi, ove mestizia alberga e morte. 



54 the romantic AGONY 

Marino’s Satan is sad because he is conscious, above all 
else, of being a fallen angel: 

Misero, e come il tuo splendor primiero 
Perdesti, o gik di luce Angel piii bello!^ 

He is a sooty Narcissus, a Phaethon of the abyss. It is 
true that in Tasso he says : 

. . . non sono anco estinti 
Gli spirti in voi di quel valor primiero, 

Quando di ferro e d’alte fiamme cinti 
Pugnammo gi^ contra il celeste impero. 

Fummo, io no’l nego, in quel conflitto vinti: 

Pur non manc6 virtute al gran pensiero. 

Diede che che si fosse a lui vittoria: 

Rimase a noi d’invitto ardir la gloria.^ 

But Marino insists above all on this Promethean aspect 
of Satan : 

E se quindi il mio stuol vinto cadeo, 

Il tentar Palte imprese h pur trofeo . . 

— and on the beauty he had once possessed : 

Ah non se’tu la creatura bella, 

Principe gi^i de’fulguranti Amori, 

Del matutino Ciel la prima Stella, 

La prima luce degli alati Cori ? . . . 

Lasso, ma che mi val fiior di speranza 
A lo stato primier volger la mente ? 

Ma qual forza tem’io? gi^ non perdei 
Con Tantico candor Palta natura.^ 

2. Milton had this particular aspect of Satan in mind 
when he was preparing, in the First Book of Paradise Lost^ 
to describe a similar 'infernal council’.^ He knew the 
translation which Richard Crashaw had made of the First 
Canto of Mmno’s Strage degli Innocenti^ and he knew the 
original Italian. Crashaw had rendered the passage : 

Misero, e come il tuo splendor primiero 
Perdesti, o gik di luce Angel pih bello! 

with 

Disdainefull wretch! how hath one bold sinne cost 
Thee all the Beauties of thy once bright Eyes\ 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 55 

For Milton this ‘splendor primiero’ is not entirely lost. 
Lucifer is changed, it is true: 

. . . But O how falPn! how chang’d 
From him, who in the happy Realms of Light 
Cloth’d with transcendent brightness didst outshine 
Myriads though bright 

but nevertheless: 

... he above the rest 
In shape and gesture proudly eminent 
Stood like a Towr; his form had not yet lost 
All her Original brightness, nor appear’d 
Less then Arch Angel ruin’d, and th’ excess 
Of Glory obscur’d: As when the Sun new ris’n 
Looks through the Horizontal misty Air 
Shorn of his Beams, or from behind the Moon 
In dim Eclips disastrous twilight sheds 
On half the Nations, and with fear of change 
Perplexes Monarchs. Dark’n’d so, yet shon 
Above them all th’ Arch Angel: but his face 
Deep scars of Thunder had intrench t, and care 
Sat on his faded cheek, but under Browes 
Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride 
Waiting revenge . . 

Sadness and death dwell also in the eyes of Milton’s 
Satan (lines 56-8): 

... his baleful eyes 

That witness’d huge affliction and dismay 
Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate. 

He proclaims also the glory of having attempted the 
great enterprise, in spite of his defeat (lines 623—4): 

, . . that strife 

Was not inglorious, though th’ event was dire; 

and does not repent of his own presumption, retaining his 
‘alta natura’ even in the loss of his former ‘candore’ : 

nor ... do I repent, or change. 

Though changed in outward lustre, that fixed mind. 

And high disdain . . . 

Milton conferred upon the figure of Satan all the charm 
of an untamed rebel which already belonged to the Prome- 
theus of Aeschylus and to the Capaneo of Dante, but it 



56 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

must not be forgotten that Marino had preceded him in 
the same path; so that one cannot agree with Taine” 
when he claims that the character of Milton’s Satan was 
typically Anglo-Saxon: 

‘Cet heroisme sombre, cette dure obstination, cette poignante 
ironie, ces bras orgueilleux et roidis qui serrent la douleur comme 
une maltresse, cette concentration du courage invaincu, qui, repli6 
en lui-mSme, trouve tout en lui-mSme, cette puissance de passion 
et cet empire sur la passion sont des traits propres du caractbre 
anglais comme de la litterature anglaise.’ 

With Milton, the Evil One definitely assumes an aspect 
of fallen beauty, of splendour shadowed by sadness and 
death; he is ‘majestic though in ruin’. The Adversary 
becomes strangely beautiful, but not in the manner of the 
witches Alcina and Lamia, whose loveliness is a work of 
sorcery, an empty illusion which turns to dust like the 
apples of Sodom. Accursed beauty is a permanent attri- 
bute of Satan; the thunder and stink of Mongibello, the 
last traces of the gloomy figure of the medieval Fiend, 
have now disappeared. 

Is the reversal of values which some critics have tried 
to discover really to be found in Milton Is the justifica- 
tion of the ways of God to men only the, seeming aim of 
the poem, the poet himself in reality being ‘of the 
Devil’s party without knowing it’, as Blake declared 
Is Paradise Lost, as a modern psychologist maintains, 3 a 
product of ‘inverted power’, the projection into a work of 
imagination (that is, into a dream) of Milton’s thwarted 
purposes, at a time when all the hopes he placed in the 
Commonwealth were dashed to the ground? And is 
Satan’s cry of revolt the cry of the poet himself, whose 
genius, inverted, has given a positive value to what 
objectively stands for the negative — evil — ^in his poem ? 
At any rate, without accepting so extreme a theory, it can- 
not be denied that ‘the character of Satan expresses as no 
other character or act or feature of the poem does, some- 
thing in which Milton believed very strongly: heroic 
energy’.i4 

What it is important to establish here is that the 
Romantics approached to Blake’s point of view, is Schiller, 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 57 

in the Selbstrecension der Rduher^ observes, on the subject 
of Paradise Lost: 

‘Automatically we take the side of the loser; an artifice by which 
Milton, the panegyrist of Hell, transforms for a moment even the 
mildest of readers into a fallen angel/ 

Shelley, in the Defense of Poesy y goes further: 

‘Milton’s poem contains within itself a philosophical refutation 
of that system, of which, by a strange and natural antithesis, it has 
been a chief popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and 
magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise 
Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been 
intended for the popular personification of evil. . . . Milton’s Devil 
as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres 
in some purpose, which he has conceived to be excellent, in spite 
of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of 
undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his 
enemy . . . with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve 
new torments.’^® 

3. Towards the end of the eighteenth century Milton’s 
Satan transfused with his own sinister charm the tradi- 
tional type of generous outlaw or sublime criminal/^ 
Schiller’s Rduber Karl Moor (1781) is an angel-outlaw in 
the manner of Milton’s and of those of his German 
imitator Klopstock; he had in him the stuff of a Brutus, 
but unfavourable circumstances had made him into a 
Catiline, Schiller also, following Milton’s example, 
speaks of the ‘majesty’ of his Robber, of ‘the honourable 
malefactor, the majestic monster ^{UngeheuermitMajestdt). 
In a scene which was suppressed later Karl Moor says to 
Spiegelberg: 

‘I do not know, Maurice, if you have read Milton. He who 
could not endure that another should be above him, and who dared 
to challenge the Almighty to a duel, was he not an extraordinary 
genius? He had encountered the Invincible One, and although in 
defeat he exhausted all his forces, he was not humiliated; eternally, 
even to the present day, he makes new efforts, and every blow falls ^ 
back again on his own head, yet still he is not humiliated* . . . An 
intelligent mind, which neglects mean duties for a more exalted 
purpose, will be eternally unhappy, whereas the knave who has 
betrayed his friend and fled before his enemy ascends to Heaven, 
thank to an opportune little sigh of repentance. Who would not 



$8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

prefer to roast in the furnace of Belial with Borgia and Catiline, 
rather than sit up above at table with that vulgar ass? It is he at 
whose name our gossips make the sign of the cross.’ 

Karl Moor is compared to ‘that first wicked leader 
who urged thousands of innocent angels into the fire of 
revolt and dragged them with him into the deep abyss of 
damnation’ (ii. 3); he proclaims himself to be (iii. 2) ‘a 
howling Abaddon among the flowers of a happy world’ 
(here the allusion is to Klopstock’s poem Messias) ; Amalie 
throws herself on his neck (v. 2) crying ‘Assassin! Demon! 
I cannot do without you, angel!’,^* and Karl exclaims, ‘See, 
see, the sons of light weep in the arms of a weeping 
Demon’.i<> From crime to crime Karl rushes into the 
abyss of despair, “ till finally the harmony of the moral law 
is re-established in the Christian ending: through pain the 
robber is brought back to the path of sacrifice and virtue.21: 

4. Rebels in the grand manner, grandsons of Milton’s 
Satan and brothers of Schiller’s Robber, begin to inhabit 
the picturesque, Gothicized backgrounds of the English 
‘tales of terror’ towards the end of the eighteenth century. 
The little figures of banditti, which formed pleasing 
decorative details in the landscapes of the Salvator Rosa 
school then in fashion, came to life in the writings of Mrs. 
Ann Radcliffe, ‘the Shakespeare of romance writers’, and 
took on gigantic and Satanic proportions, becowled 
and sinister as Goya’s bogeys. Montoni, the scoundrel 
and adventurer of the Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), takes 
pleasure in the violent exercise of his passions; the diffi- 
culties and storms of life which ruin the happiness of 
others stimulate and strengthen all the energies of his 
mind. 

Mrs. Radcliife’s masterpiece is the character of Sche- 
doni in The Italian^ or the Confessional of the Black Penitents 
(t797)- At that time the chief source of mysterious 
crimes (that source of evil actions in which the British 
public is forced to believe by its innate Manicheism, 
whether it be a Machiavellian monster, as in the Eliza- 
bethan period, or a double-dyed criminal, as in the de- 
tective novels of to-day) was to be found in the Spanish and 
Italian Inquisition. Illuminism had pointed to the Roman 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 59 

Catholic monk as an infamy which must be crushed, and 
the recent campaign of the states of Europe against the 
Society of Jesus had disclosed a sinister background of 
material interests. Schedoni, therefore, is a monk; when 
he comes on the scene he appears as a man of unknown 
origin, but suspected to be of exalted birth and decayed 
fortunes. Severe reserve, unconquerable silence, love of 
solitude, and frequent penances, were interpreted by some 
as the effect of misfortunes preying upon a haughty and 
disordered spirit, by others as the consequence of some 
hideous crime which filled his troubled conscience with 
remorse. 

‘His figure was striking ... it was tall, and, though extremely 
thin, his limbs were large and uncouth, and as he stalked along, 
wrapt in the black garments of his order, there was something 
terrible in its air; something almost superhuman. His cowl, too, 
as it threw a shade over the livid paleness of his face, encreased its 
severe character, and gave an effect to his large melancholy eye, 
which approached to horror. His was not the melancholy of a 
sensible and wounded heart, but apparently that of a gloomy and 
ferocious disposition. There was somethii^ in his ph3reiognomy 
extremely singular, and that cannot easily be defined. It bore the 
traces of many passions, which seemed to have fixed the features 
they no longer animated. An habitual gloom and severity prevailed 
over the deep lines of his countenance; and his eyes were so piercing 
that they seemed to penetrate, at a single glance, into the hearts 
of men, and to read their most secret thougfitsi few persons could 
support their scrutiny, or even endure to meet them twice.’ 

Certain qualities can be noticed here which were 
destined to recur insistently in the Fatal Men of the 
“ll^omantics ; mysterious (but conjectured to be exalted) 
origin, traces of burnt-out passions, suspicion of a ghastly 
vguilt, melancholy habits, pale face, unforgettable eyes. 
Decidedly there is something of Milton’s Satan in this 
monk, whose ‘whole air and attitudes exhibited the wild 
energy of something not of this earth’. There is something 
also of Shakespeare’s King John (iv. 2): 

The image of a wicked heinous feult 

Lives in his eye; that dose aspect of his 

Does show the mood of a much troubled breast. 



6o THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

His rare smiles are as the smiles of Cassius (yulius 
Caesar, i. ii) : 

Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort 
As if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit 
That could be mov’d to smile at any thing. 

The horror he inspires is not unaccompanied by a cer- 
tain degree of pity, as in the case of Richard III (v, 3): 

. . . There is no creature loves mej'^ 

And if I die, no soul shall pity me: 

Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself 
Find in myself no pity to myself?** 

In other ways Schedoni is reminiscent of the Machia- 
vellians and Jesuits who had been among the abiding 
features of the English theatre of the seventeenth century 

‘He cared not for truth, nor sought it by bold and broad argu- 
ment, but loved to exert the wily cunning of his nature in hunting 
it through artificial perplexities. At length, from a habit of intricacy 
and suspicion, his vitiated mind could receive nothing for truth, 
which was simple and easily comprehended. . . . Notwithstanding 
all this gloom and austerity, some rare occasions of interest had 
called forth a character upon his countenance entirely different; 
and he could adapt himself to the tempers and passions of persons, 
whom he wished to conciliate, with astonishing fiicility, and 
generally with complete triumph.’ 

5. It is possible that the influence of The Monk^^y 
Matthew Gregory Lewis, published the year before, in 
1 796,* had also contributed towards the formation of the 
character of Schedoni. I shall have occasion later on to 
speak of this immensely successful novel; in the meantime 
let me point out that it has been noticed that both Schedoni 
and Lewis’s monk Ambrosio are first seen in the full odour 
of sanctity, then commit the most horrible crimes, and 
both end as victims of the Inquisition. Lewis, in fact, did 
little but clothe in a monastic habit a figure which already 
existed — existed, indeed, actually in Mrs. RadclifFe’s own 
repertory, for Lewis asserts*'^ that he had read with 
enthusiasm The Mysteries of Udolpho on their first appear- 
ing:* now the character of Montoni in The Mysteries 
of Udolpho already foreshadowed that of the monk 
Ambrosio. 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 6i 

Lewis, on the other hand, was acquainted with the 
German villains put into circulation by the ‘Sttirmer und 
DrSnger’, following the example of Schiller’s Rauber\ in his 
Bravo of Venice (1805) he was merely translating 
der grosse Bandit^ by Heinrich Zschokke ( 1 794). This Schil- 
leresque romance by Zschokke — ^later converted into a 
play — played no little part (in Lamarteliere’s version, 
1 801) in making known in France the figure of the ‘noble 
brigand’; it contained, among other things, one curious 
detail which Sue and other writers of the roman-feuilleton 
did not forget, that of the protagonist’s double personality. 

Abellino is the assumed name under which an unfortu- 
nate nobleman, Flodoardo, becomes a brigand. As Flodo- 
ardo he courts the niece of the Doge, Rosamunde, and 
gives up the brigands to justice; as Abellino he pretends 
to put himself at the service of the enemies of Venice, and 
gets rid of the Doge’s friends and counsellors. Finally the 
Doge consents to give his niece’s hand to Flodoardo if the 
latter can deliver up to him within twenty-four hours 
Abellino, dead or alive. At the hour agreed upon Flo- 
doardo reveals the double part he has played, unmasks the 
enemies of the Republic, produces the Doge’s friends safe 
and sound, and obtains the hand of Rosamunde. There is 
no happy ending, however, to Jean Sbogar, the novel by 
Charles Nodier (1818), who, following in Zschokke’s 
footsteps, also confers double personality upon his bandit, 
who in many respects resembles the bandits of Byron.^s 

6. It is of these latter that we must now speak, since it 
was Byron who brought to perfection the rebel type, 
remote descendant of Milton’s Satan. 

Milton’s type of Satan is immediately recognizable in 
the shrewd portrait of Byron outlined by the Earl of Love- 
lace in Astarte^ the first book to throw light on the mystery 
of the life of his grandfather the poet. 

‘He had a fancy for some Oriental legends of pre-existence, and 
in his conversation and poetry took up the part of a fellen or exiled 
being, expelled from heaven, or sentenced to a new avatar on earth 
for some crime, existing under a curse, predoomed to a fate really 
fixed by himself in his own mind, but which he seemed determined 
to fulfil. At times this dramatic imagination resembled a delusion; 



62 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

he would play at being mad, and gradually get more and more 
serious, as if he believed himself to be destined to wreck his own 
life and that of everyone near him.’ 

This is a sketch which reproduces in dim outline the 
sombre portrait of his idealized self drawn by Byron in 
three famous stanzas of Lara (Canto I, xvii-xix): 

In him inexplicably mix’d appear’d 

Much to be loved and hated, sought and feared; 

Opinion varying o’er his hidden lot. 

In praise or railing ne’er his name forgot: 

His silence form’d a theme for others’ prate — 

They guess’d, they gazed, they fain would know his fate. 
What had he been ? what was he, thus unknown, 

Who walk’d their world, his lineage only known ? 

A hater of his kind ? yet some would say. 

With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;^^ 

But own’d that smile, if oft observed and near, 

Waned in its mirth, and wither’d to a sneer; 

That smile might reach his lip, but pass’d not by. 

None e’er could trace its laughter to his eye: 

Yet there was softness too in his regard. 

At times, a heart as not by nature hard. 

But once perceived, his spirit seem’d to chide 
Such weakness, as unworthy of its pride. 

And steel’d itself, as scorning to redeem 
One doubt from others’ half withheld esteem;^® 

In self-inflicted penance of a breast 

Which tenderness might once have wrung from rest; 

In vigilance of grief that would compel 
The soul to hate for having loved too well. 

There was in him a vital scorn of all: 

As if the worst had fall’n which could befall. 

He stood a stranger in this breathing world. 

An erring spirit from another hurl’d; 

A thing of dark imagining, that shaped 
By choice the perils he by chance escaped; 

But ’scaped in vain, for in their memory yet 
His mind would half exult and half regret: 

With more capacity for love than earth 
Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth. 

His early dreams of good outstripp’d the truth. 

And troubled manhood follow’d bafl^ied youth; 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 
With thought of years in phantom chase misspent. 
And wasted powers for better purpose lent;*® 

And fiery passions that had pour’d their wrath 
In hurried desolation o’er his path,*® 

And left the better feelings all at strife 
In wild reflection o’er his stormy life; 

But haughty still, and loth himself to blame. 

He call’d on Nature’s self to share the shame. 

And charged all faults upon the fleshly form 
She gave to clog the soul, and feast the worm; 

Till he at last confounded good and ill. 

And half mistook for fate ±e acts of will: 

Too high for common selfishness, he could 
At times resign his own for others’ good, 

But not in pity, not because he ought. 

But in some strange perversity of thought. 

That sway’d him onward with a secret pride 
To do what few or none would do beside; 

And this same impulse would, in tempting time, 
Mislead his spirit equally to crime; 

So much he soar’d beyond, or sunk beneath. 

The men with whom he felt condemn’d to breathe, 
And long’d by good or ill to separate 
Himself from all who shared his mortal state; 

His mind abhorring this, had fix’d her throne 
Far from the world, in regions of her own; 

Thus coldly passing all that pass’d below. 

His blood in temperate seeming now would flow: 
Ah ! happier if it ne’er with guilt had glow’d. 

But ever in that icy smoothness flow’d! 

’Tis true, with other men their path he walk’d, 
And like the rest in seeming did and talk’d, 

Nor outraged Reason’s rules by flaw nor start. 

His madness was not of the head, but heart; 

And rarely wander’d in his speech, or drew 
His thoughts so forth as to offend the view. 


With all that chilling mystery of mien. 

And seeming gladness to remain unseen, 

He had (if ’twere not nature’s boon) an art 
Of fixing memory on another’s heart: 

It was not love perchance, nor hate, nor aught 
That words can image to express the thought; 



64 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

But they who saw him did not see in vain, 

And once beheld, would ask of him again: 

And those to whom he spake remember’d well. 

And on the words, however light, would dwell: 

None knew nor how, nor why, but he entwined 
Himself perforce around the hearer’s mind; 

There he was stamp’d, in liking, or in hate, 

If greeted once; however brief the date 
That friendship, pity, or aversion knew. 

Still there within the inmost thought he grew 
You could not penetrate his soul, but found, 

Despite your wonder, to your own he wound; 

His presence haunted still; and from the breast 
He forced an all unwilling interest: 

Vain was the struggle in that mental net, 

His spirit seem’d to dare you to forget 1^^ 

The Corsair and the Giaour have the same characteris- 
tics, The Corsair has a pale, high forehead, and hides dark 
passions beneath an appearance of calm. The furrows of 
his face and his frequent change of colour attract the eye 
and at the same time leave it bewildered, 

As if within that murkiness of mind 
Work’d feelings fearful, and yet undefined. 

But no one knows exactly what his secret may be. 

Too close inquiry his stern glance would quell. 

There breathe but few whose aspect might defy 
The full encounter of his searching eye. 

There was a laughing Devil in his sneer, 

That raised emotions both of rage and fear; 

And where his frown of hatred darkly fell, 

Hope withering fled, and Mercy sigh’d farewell 

Finally the Giaour, the first in order of time of these 
Byronic heroes, shows plainly his relationship with Mrs. 
Radcliffe’s Schedoni. The Giaour, who by his passion has 
indirectly caused the death of Leila, hides his sinister past 
beneath a monk’s gown. 

‘How name ye yon lone Caloyer? 

His features I have scann’d before 
In mine own land: ’tis many a year, 

Since, dashing by the lonely shore, 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 
I saw him urge as fleet a steed 
As ever served a horseman’s need. 

But once I saw that face, yet then 
It was so mark’d with inward pain, 

I could not pass it by again; 

It breathes the same dark spirit now. 

As death were stamp’d upon his brow.’ 


‘ ’Tis twice three years at summer tide 
Since first among our freres he came; 

And here it soothes him to abide 
For some dark deed he will not name. . , 

Dark and unearthly is the scowl 
That glares beneath his dusky cowl. 

The flash of that dilating eye 
Reveals too much of times gone by; 

Though varying, indistinct its hue, 

Oft will his glance the gazer rue, 

For in it lurks that nameless spell. 

Which speaks, itself unspeakable, 

A spirit yet unquell’d and high. 

That claims and keeps ascendancy; 

And like a bird whose pinions quake. 

But cannot fly the gazing snake. 

Will others quail beneath his look. 

Nor ’scape the glance they scarce can brook. 
From him the half-affrighted Friar 
When met alone would fein retire. 

As if that eye and bitter smile 
Transferr’d to others fear and guile: 

Not oft to smile descendeth he. 

And when he doth ’tis sad to see 
That he but mocks at Misery. 

How that pale lip will curl and quiver! 
Then fix once more as if for ever; 

As if his sorrow or disdain 
Forbade him e’er to smile again. 

Well were it so — such ghastly mirth 
From joyaunce ne’er derived its birth. 

But sadder still it were to trace 
What once were feelings in that face: 



66 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
Time hath not yet the features fix’d. 

But brighter traits with evil mix’d; 

And there are hues not always &ded, 

Which speak a mind not all degraded 
Even by the crimes through which it waded: 

The common crowd but see the gloom 
Of wayward deeds, and fitting doom; 

The close observer can espy 
A noble soul, and lineage high: 

Alas! though both bestow’d in vain. 

Which Grief could change, and Guilt could stain. 

It was no vulgar tenement 
To which such lofty gifts were lent. 

And still with little less than dread 
On such the sight is riveted. 

The pale face furrowed by an ancient grief, the rare 
Satanic smile, the traces of obscured nobility (‘a noble soul 
and lineage high’) worthy of a better fate — Byron might 
^ said to have derived all these characteristics, by an 
•Almost slavish imitation, from Mrs. Radcliffe. 

7. The relationship is less obvious between Byron’s 
heroes and another criminal figure, Zeluco, in the novel of 
the sanae name by John Moore (1786), in spite of the fact 
that this was one of the books of which Byron was most 
fond as a child, and that in the preface to Childe Harold he 
expressly declares that the character of Harold was in- 
tended to develop in the successive cantos like th^t of ‘a 
modern Timon’, and ‘perhaps’ of ‘a poetical Zeluco’. But 
Zeluco is lacking in the fundamental characteristic of the 
heroes of Schiller, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Byron — ^the quality 
of a kind of fallen angel. Zeluco is made after the pattern, 
not so much of Milton’s Satan, as of the villains of Eliza- 
bethan tradition. He is an lago who has absorbed certain 
of the characteristics of Othello (his very name perhaps 
recalls the word ^■^Aos, Jealousy) as well as those of 
Richardson’s Lovelace. Jealous of Laxu^, the young Ger- 
man girl whom he has married out of revenge, he wrongly 
suspects that his own son is the fruit of an incestuous love 
l^tween her and her brother, and in an access of Othello- 
like rage, strangles the child with the same ease with 
which, as a boy, he had squeezed to death a sparrow. 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 67 

There is nothing mysterious or fatal about this villain, 
who moves in a conventional middle-class world, without 
subtleties or thrills. Zeluco has only one virtue, courage. 
Otherwise he is ambitious, cruel, and above all — z (juality 
particularly repellent to Byron — a hypocrite. Sicilian by 
birth, Zeluco is a distant offshoot of the Elizabethan 
monsters produced in hatred against the Latin world by 
the imagination of Puritans; he does not possess that mix- 
ture of qualities which makes the villains of the ‘tales of 
terror’ on the one hand descendants of Lucifer and, on 
the other, precursors of the Romantic hero. It is true, 
however, that certain external resemblances to the cir- 
cumstances of his own life must have made a profound 
impression on Byron, for Zeluco also had lost his 
father at an early age and had given precocious signs of 
the violence of his temper, ‘as inflammable as gunpowder, 
bursting into flashes of rage at the slightest touch of 
provocation’. 

8. Even if there can be no doubt of the Anglo- 
Germanic origin of the colours used by Byron for his por- 
trait of the bandit-hero, it is, however, quite possible that 
the poet’s hand was guided in his design by Chateau- 
briand. It is difiicult to calculate exactly how much Byron 
owed to him. French critics, basing their judgement on 
the words of the Memoires d’ outre-tomhe (repeated in the 
Essai sur la litterature anglaise), tend to exaggerate the 
amount of this debt. Byron’s silence on the subject of 
Chateaubriand gives the whole question a curious simi- 
larity to that other debatable question of Chaucer’s know- 
ledge of the Decameron. 

‘S’il 6tait vrai que Ren^ entrit pour quelque chose dans le fond 
du personnage unique mis en sc^ne sous des noms divers dans 
Childe-Harold, Conrad, Lara, Manfred, le Giaour; si par hasard 
lord Byron m’avait feit vivre de sa vie, il aurait done eu la feiblesse 
de ne jamais me nommer ? J’ 4 tais done un de ces peres qu’on renie 
quand on est arrivd au pouvoir?’ 

Thus, among other remarks, wrote the author of Rene.^^ 

The question, at any rate, is limited to this latter work, 
for any attempt to see in Harold’s pilgrimage an imitation 
of the Itineraire (1811) — ^an idea which Chateaubriand 



68 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

himself suggests and which Reynaud^'* without hesitation 
develops— ^oes not bear examination of the facts. Apart 
from the fact that the publication of the Itineraire was 
later than Byron’s own journey (which started in 1 809) 
and the composition of the first cantos of Childe 
Harold, this journey, in spite of Byron’s various plans, 
some more, some less ambitious, resolved itself in the end 
into the Grand Tour which it was the usual custom for 
Englishmen of rank to take for the completion of their 
education.^® Therefore the argument of the similarity be- 
tween Harold’s and Rent’s journey loses a good deal of its 
force; the latter also had wandered and meditated among 
the ruins of the ancient world. Even though there are 
many similar characteristics — ennui, love of solitude, a 
^secret which gnaws the heart, voluntary exiles® — ^it must 
on the other hand be remembered that some of these 
qualities had become the common inheritance of growing 
^omanticism.s 7 It may sometimes be more exact to speak 
of a relationship of ideas arising from the same sources, 
rather than of actual imitation. On the subject of Chateau- 
briand’s claim that Byron had imitated him, Sainte-Beuve 
remarks 

T1 y a III de I’enfantillage vraiment. Ces grands pofetes n’ont 
pas eu besoin de s’imiter I’un Tautre; ils ont trouvd en eux-mAmes 
et dans I’air du siede une inspiration suffisante qu’ils ont chacun 
appropride et figurde li leur manidre, en y mettant le cachet de leur 
talent et de leur dgoTsme. Tous ces types sont ddos en Allemagne, 
en Angleterre, en France, sous un mdme souffle, sous un mime 
courant atmospherique gdndral qui tenait k I’dtat du monde k ce 
moment’ 

It would be much easier to prove had it been possible 
for Byron to have seen Les Natchez, but this was not pub- 
lished until after his death. In this, much more than in 
Rene, Chateaubriand expatiates on the fatality which pur- 
sues his hero: 

‘Aimer et souffrir dtait la double fatalitd qu’il imposait li qui- 
conque s’approchait de sa personne. Jetd dans le monde comme un 
grand malheur, sa pemideuse influence s’dtendait aux dtres envi- 
ronnants. . . . Tout lui devenait fatal, mdme le bonheur.’** 

After he is dead Rend threatens to become a vampire-— 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 69 

quite in accordance with one of the developments of the 
Byronic hero, of which I shall have to speak later: 

‘Le g^nie fetal de Rene poursuivit encore Cdluta, comme ces 
fentdmes nocturnes qui vivent du sang des mortels.’4o 

Byron never saw these passages, and if his work con- 
tains some that are similar, « it can only be due to the 
common backgrotind from which both drew their inspira- 
tion. There are some who even go so far as to say that 
Byron’s incest with his half-sister was a plagiarism, be- 
cause Byron committed in reality the crime of which Rend 
had conceived the horrible possibility.'^^ But the sub- 
ject of incest is by no means confined to Chateaubriand.'^^ 
We shall see, incidentally, how important a part it played 
in the ‘tales of terror’, whose influence on Byron is ob- 
vious. Besides, Chateaubriand himself was an admirer of 
Milton’s Satan, whom he defined as ‘une des conceptions 
les plus sublimes et les plus pathdtiques qui soient jamais 
sorties du cerveau d’un podte’,+* though the attitude of 
Satanic defiance, an important quality in Byron and in the 
villain-heroes of the ‘tales of terror’, is not to be found in 
Rend, who has a stronger affinity with Werther : he accepts 
his fatal quality as a misfortune, possesses the evil eye, 
and never ceases to ask pardon for the disasters which his 
presence brings.'+s 

9. The Giaour, the Corsair, and Lara, therefore, derive 
not so much from Zeluco and Rend as from Mrs. Rad- 
cliflFe’s Schedoni. From Schedoni we can go back to 
Milton’s Satan, from Milton’s Satan to the Satan of 
Marino, and finally discover the charm of the terrible, 
demoniac eyes of all these haunted creatixres contained 
in a nutshell in the line 

Negli occhi, ove mestizia alberga e morte, 

which Marino took, with slight alterations, from a line of 
Tasso. Is it all a mere game of literary decantation ? 

It is quite possible that Mrs. Radcliffe drew the figure 
of the sinister monk Schedoni mainly from her own study 
of the books which, as a literary blue-stocking, she used to 
read: but Byron’s case is more complex. Did he not, in 
any case, declare that ‘the Corsair was ■written cok amore. 



70 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

and much from existence' Given the vanity of his own 
nature, what is more probable than that he should have 
deliberately modelled himself upon the figure of the ac- 
cursed angel? Who can be sure that he may not have 
studied every detail in front of a mirror, even to the 
terrible oblique look with which he frightened people, 
'particularly his mistresses? But however artificial the 
methods by which Byron cultivated his character of Fatal 
^Man, he possessed by nature not only ‘le physique du 
rdle’, but also the psychological tendency handed down to 
him from a long chain of ancestors who conformed more 
or less to the type of the ‘noble ruffian 

Cave a signatis: in his very physical deformity Byron 
saw the sign of his destiny. To what point, as an actor, he 
was convinced by his own role it is impossible to say, but 
he was always sincere in feeling himself ‘a marked man’, 
stamped with a sign among ordinary mortals, ‘an outlaw’. 
Does the whole Byronic legend then stand on no firmer a 
pedestal than a club foot ? A club foot, hence the besoin de 
la fatalite. . . . 

The question is more complicated than that. Yet, 
though not denying the importance of small matters, one 
would not wish to reduce Byron to the level of the man 
who, having received a present of a gold-topped stick, felt 
it his duty to put the rest of his costume in harmony with 
it, and so ran up debts, was ruined, and finished up with 
his corpse at the Morgue. Let us at any rate consider the 
conclusion of du Bos as being justified :47 

‘II semble qu’il soit blas4, et qu’il ne puisse sentir vraiment 
que hors la loi. Aussi, lorsqu’on envisage comme fectices, comme 
conventionnels les innombrables portraits que Byron a trac& de 
lui-mSme sous la figure de YoutlaWy on commet k son sujet le con- 
tresens irreparable, car ces portraits dmanent, remontent tous de 
la couche la plus profonde de sa sincentd. Dans la loi, il n’dprouve 
rien; hors la loi, il sent ^ fond.’ 

lo. It was in transgression that Byron found his own 
life-rhythm. Du Bos 207) very aptly recalls the title of 
one of the 'Diaboliques of Barbey d’Aurevilly — he Bonheur 
dans le crime. It suffices here to sum up the case again — 
the subject is a very trite one, and to-day, since the books 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 71 

of Ethel Colburn Mayne, du Bos, and Maurois, there is 
no more room for controversy — ^by sapng that Byron 
sought in incest a spice for love (‘great is their love who 
love in sin and fear’ : Heaven and Earthy line 67),^® and that 
he required the feeling of guilt to arouse in him the 
phenomena of the moral sense, and the feeling of fatality 
in order to appreciate the flow of life. 

‘Le fonds byronien est bien cette melancolie innfe, due peut-€tre 
k un cceur, si je puis ainsi m’exprimer, en soi statique qui, pour 
percevoir ses battements, a besoin que ceux-ci s’accflerent jusqu’^ 
la folie.’ 

I think that du Bos has here (p. 84) found the key to 
Byron’s character. It seems a paradox, and yet the most 
genuine thing that this monster of energy — if ever there 
was one — possessed, was the force of inertia. The func- 
tion which violent exercise and a drastic regime fulfilled 
for him physically^^ecking his tendency to grow fat,'>Was 
fulfilled for his moral nature, which was naturally idle, by 
tumultuous emotions.^ ‘Passion is the element in which 
we live: without it we but vegetate’, said Byron in his 
mature years to Lady Blessington®® — ^much in the manner 
of Vauvenargues (*une vie sans passions ressemble bien a 
la mort’), and of Chamfort (‘les passions font vivre 
I’homme, la sagesse le fait seulement durer’).®^ He had to 
key up his life to such a high state of tension in order to 
make it yield him anything, that when it came to the post- 
mortem it was found that both brain and heart showed 
signs of very advanced age : the sutures of the brain were 
{entirely obliterated and the heart bore signs of incipient 
^ossification. Yet Byron was only thirty-six. His blood had 
to boil like lava for him to feel it beating in his pulses: did 
not the Giaour say of his own blood 

But mine was like the lava flood 
That boils in Etna’s breast of flame? 

Paroxysm became his natural atmosphere; hence the 
jarring and clamorous discords which strike one in so 
many of his productions. This necessity of forcing 
the tones may account for Byron’s behaviour during 
what he called his ‘treacle-moon’. His conduct towards 



73 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

his wife seems to have been of a moral cruelty so excep- 
tional as to make one for a moment doubt the reliability 
'/of the historical evidence. But one quickly comes to see 
that no episode in Byron’s life is more true to type than 
this. The actual story of this episode must be read in 
Ethel Colburn Mayne’s The Life and Letters of Anne 
Isabella, Lady Noel Byron, for which Miss Colburn 
Mayne was enabled to consult and draw upon private 
records in the possession of Byron’s descendants. 

Byron puts forward heroic arguments in order to ex- 
tract sensations from marriage. ‘The great object of life isf 
sensation, to feel that we exist, even though in pain’, he' 
had written to his future wife,s3 who, though she might 
have been forewarned by it, was impelled by love and pro- 
tective instinct towards her ambitious and rather puerile 
attempt to reform the poet. The first thing Byron said to 
her after the wedding ceremony was that it was now too late, 
that Annabella could have saved him if she had accepted 
him the first time he had asked for her hand, but that now 
there was no remedy: something irreparable had happened, 
Annabella wouldrealizethatshehadmarrieda devil, because 
he could only hate her: they were a damned and accursed 
pair. Even this was not enough. Annabella must be made to 
believe that the marriage was the result of a pique, of a bet, 
in which the woman had been treated as a mere object.'/ 
Had Annabella refused Byron’s hand the first time.? 
Byron had plotted with Lady Melbourne to punish her 
stubbornness. Now he held her in his power, and he 
would make her feel it. At the moment of going to bed, 
Byron asked his wife if she intended to sleep in the same 
bed with him: ‘I hate sleeping with any woman, but you| 
may if you choose.’ After all, provided she were young, 

he went on, one woman was as good as another In the 

middle of the night Annabella heard her husband cry out: 
4Good God, I am surely in Hell!’ The fire in the grate 
shone through the red curtains of the marriage bed. 
Profiting by his youthful reading of Zeluco, John Moore’s 
romance, Byron entertained his wife on the means em- 
ployed by that monster to get rid of his own chili And 
ne concluded: ‘I shall strangle ours.^ Later, when Anna- 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 73 

bella was suffering the pains of childbirth, Byron told her 
that he hoped she would perish together with her baby, 
and when the child was born, the first thing he asked on 
coming into the room was ‘The child was born dead, 
wasn’t it?’ 

But the most subtle torture, the torture which was to 
wring the most exquisite cry of anguish from its victim, 
was this : Byron, by every kind of allusion and insinuation, 
sought to instil into Annabella the suspicion of his incest 
with Augusta, his ‘terrible’ secret. When Augusta was 
living under the same roof, Annabella must be given to 
understand that Medora was Byron’s daughter, and must 
be convinced that Augusta was still having intercourse 
with him (which was not true). Byron felt a perverse joy 
at the simultaneous presence of the two women, with all 
the amusement of innuendoes and double meanings which 
it afforded him, and the continual sensation of hanging 
over the edge of an abyss.5+ Annabella was beside herself 
with desperation, to the point of feeling herself driven to 
kill Augusta the thought of imminent catastrophe filled 
Byron with exultation: 

. . . There was that in my spirit ever 

Which shaped out for itself some great reverse. 

Compared with these moral tortures his ostentation of 
physical ferocity seems a mere childish game, but Byron 
used to pace through the house with ruthless steps, armed 
with daggers and pistols, in imitation of the fifth Lord 
Byron, the ‘Wicked Lord’. Like Capaneo, like Satan, 
Bwon wished to experience the feeling of being struck 
ynth. full force by the vengeance of Heaven.^? He sought 
to measure the depth of his ownT^uilt in Annabella’s 
anguish, in Augusta’s remorse. However, the material 
responded only imperfectly to the artist’s intention: 
Augusta was amoral and therefore proof against the sense 
of sin, and his wife, that patient Griselda, was a practical 
character and, although in love with him, would never 
commit a folly of the kind for which Caroline Lamb, 
Byron’s first mattresse en titre, became so celebrated. 
Byron alternated brutality with blandishment and made 
his tortures more agonizing by contrast; but Annabella 



74 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

never rose to the pitch of despair which he desired and did 
not lend herself to the melodrama of fatality. She was like 
a sailor who persists in lowering the lifeboats instead of 
helping to flood the hold, as the correct playing of the part 
assigned to her required, and Byron strove in vain to give 
orders to sink the ship immediately. 

There were touches of comedy in this gloomy tragedy 
of Byron’s life, whose scene was laid in a moral torture- 
chamber. Byron’s moral sense functioned only in the ex- 
ceptional conditions of a crisis, and it was only in the 
painful functioning of that moral sense that he found the 
gratification of his particular form of pleasure — le honheur 
dans le crime. To destroy oneself and to destroy others : 

^My embrace was fetal 

loved her, and destroy’d her.®* 

It may be claimed that this version of Byron’s married 
life is based mainly on his wife’s statements. But Lady 
Byron’s truthfulness was recognized by every one, and by 
no one more fully and explicitly than by Byron himself. 
Nor were Lady Byron’s statements disfigured by hatred, 
since Annabella never came to hate her husband; on the 
other hand, she sought to educate her daughter Ada to 
respect whatever was noble in her father. Into her account 
of their married relations Annabella introduced no distor- 
tion of truth except the inevitable one of her own point of 
view. A rather professorial and too self-conscious char- 
acter, isolated in a form of narcissism different from Byron’s, 
Annabella ended by realizing, at the age of forty, that 'not 
to see things as they are is Aen my great intellectual de- 
fect’.ss Sne saw only one side of Byron. But the poet’s 
words and deeds during their married life, in whatever 
way they are regarded, do not admit of a favourable inter- 
pretation. Perhaps he wished to joke, but joking in such 
circumstances amounts to cruelty. 

^i. What Manfred said of Astarte (‘I loved her, and 
destroy’d her’), what Byron wished to be able to say of 
Augusta and of Annabella (see the Incantation in M.an- 
fred)^ was to become the motto of the ‘fatal’ heroes of 
Romantic literature. They diffuse all round them the 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 75 

.curse which weighs upon their destiny, they blast, like 
the simoon, those who have the misfortune to meet with 
them (the image is from Manjred^ iii. i); they destroy 
themselves, and destroy the unlucky women who come 
within their orbit. Their relations with their mistresses 
are those of an incubus-devil with his victim. Byron 
realizes the extreme type of Fatal Man described by 
^chiller in the Rduber^ and by Chateaubriand in ReneM 
The following are some of the innumerable Fatal Men 
who came into existence on the pattern of the Byronic 
hero. Jean Sbogar, the nobleman-bandit of Charles Nodier 
(i 8 1 8), exercises upon Antonia the charm of an obsession. 
In a dream she feels that a lost soul is prowling round her 
house, and has glimpses of a cruel eye which watches her 
night and day. Dumas’ Antony, the most popular of the 
‘fatal’ rebels, makes the following comment upon himself 
in the lines (written in 1829) which serve as a preface to 
the play: 

Que de fois tu m’as dit, aux heures du delire, 

Quand mon front tout-i-coup devenait soucieux: 

Sur ta bouche pourquoi cet effrayant sourire ? 

Pourquoi ces larmes dans tes yeux? 

Malheur! malheur k moi que le ciel en ce monde 
A jete comme un hdte k ses lois Stranger; 

A moi qui ne sais pas, dans ma douleur profonde, 

Souffrir longtemps sans me vengerl 

Malheur! ... car une voix qui n’a rien de la terre 
M’a dit: Pour ton bonheur, c’est sa mort qu’il te feut! 

Et cette voix m’a feit comprendre le mystere 
Et du meurtre et de I’^chafaud. 

Viens done, ange du mal, dont la voix me convie. 

Car il est des instants oh si je te voyais, 

Je pourrais pour ton sang t’abandonner ma vie 
Et mon ame ... si j’y croyais! 

But the worthy Dumas, who adopted the idea of the 
Fatal Man at a stage when it is difficult to distinguish be- 
tween the Schilleresque and the Byronic elements,*^ makes 
him stab AdHe out of jealousy (as Karl Moor stabbed 
Amalie in the Rauber); he treats as a trite subject of 



76 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

ordinary passion, such as any normal man can under- 
stand, that which in Byron was a subtly perverse pleasvure 
in destruction. For, once a fashion is launched, the 
majority imitate its external aspects without understanding 
the spirit which originated it. 

12. The same can be said of Vampirism, and for this 
fashion also Byron was largely responsible. 

•Vin The Giaour (1813) Byron mentions vampires;^ 
three years later at Geneva, in company with Shelley, Dr. 
Polidori, and M. G. Lewis, he read some German ghost- 
stories and invited his friends each to write one. Thus 
Mrs. Shelley conceived Frankenstein, and Byron composed 
part of a ‘tale of terror’ which he had had in mind to write 
for some time (it was published in 1 8 1 9 as Fragment). Dr. 
Polidori elaborated this sketch, weaving into it suggestions 
from Glenarvon, the autobiographical novel in which Lady 
Caroline Lamb (1816) had represented Byron as the per- 
fidious Ruthven Glenarvon, who was fatal to his mistresses 
and was finally carried away by the devil, who for the 
occasion assumed the shape of the victims’ ghosts. In 
April 1819 Polidori’s macabre tale. The Fampire, ap- 
peared in the New Monthly Magazine under Byron’s name, 
through a misunderstanding on the part of the editor of 
the review, and Goethe , swallowing it whole, declared it to 
ybe the best thing the poet had written (Goethe himself, in 
the Braut von Korinth, 1797, had been the first to give 
literary form to the fearsome vampire legends which had 
arisen in Illyria in the eighteenth century).6s The hero of 
Polidori’s Fampire is a young libertine. Lord Ruthwen, 
who is killed in Greece and becomes a vampire, seduces 
the sister of his friend Aubrey and suffocates her during 
the night which follows their wedding.®^ A love-crime 
^becomes an integral part of vampirism, though often in 
(forms so far removed as to obscure the inner sense of the 
gruesome legend. Thus in Melmoth the Wanderer, by 
JVIaturin (1820), the hero, who is a kind of Wandering 
Jew crossed with Byronic vampire (‘ce p^le et ennuye 
Melmoth’, Baudelaire called him) interrupts a wedding 
fwst and terrifies everybody with the horrible fescination 
of his preternatural glare; soon after the bride dies and the 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 77 

bridegroom goes mad. Thus also in Smarra^ by Nodier 
(1821), Smarra, the incubus-devil, puts to death, after a 
sinister banquet, the lovers Pol^mon and Myrrhs ; 
Lorenzo is accused of the crime, and his head, cut off by 
the executioner, ‘rnord le bois humectiS de son sang 
fraichement r^pandu’. 

-M^rim^e — ^who, notwithstanding his classic genius, 
had access to the underground labyrinths of the 
jrenetique Romanticism which came into fashion about 
1820— conferred upon his Vampire (in La Guzla, written 
in 1825 or 1 826) all the perverse charm of a Byronic hero. 
M^rim^e’s vampire, like Maturin’s Melmoth, is a hero fatal 
to himself and to those around him; his love is accursed; 
he drags to destruction the woman to whom he becomes 
attached: 

‘Qui pourrait ^viter la fescination de son regard? . . . Sa bouche 
est sangknte et sourit comme celle d’un homme endormi et tour- 
ment^ d’un amour hideux.’ 

The lovely Sophie, who for material motives has re- 
jected her betrothed and married a rich man, is attacked 
on the threshold of the nuptial chamber by the ghost of 
the betrothed, who has committed suicide and who now 
bites her in the throat (Z.-* Belle Sophie). In Cara-Ali le 
vampire the kidnapper of the maiden is killed while crossing 
a river; he gives her a talisman which, claiming to make 
her husband potent, will actually destroy him — a Romantic 
version of the ancient legend of Nessus and Deianeira. 

‘Le Vampire ^pouvantera de son horrible amour les songes de 
routes les femmes; et bient&t, sans doute, ce monstre encore exhum^ 
prStera son masque immobile, sa voix s6pulcrale, son ceil d’un gris 
mort . . . tout cet attirail de mdodrame k la Melpombne des boule- 
vards; et quel succfes, alors, ne lui est pas r&erv6!’ 

Nodier, in these lines, correctly interpreted the taste of 
the period.67 We shall see how in the second half of the 
.^nineteenth century the vampire becomes a woman, as in 
Goethe’s ballad; but in the first part of the century the 
fatal, cruel lover is invariably a man; and, apart from 
reasons of tradition or race (the stronger sex remained 
such, not only in name, till ^e time of the Decadence, 
when, as will be seen, the roles appeared to be reversed) 



yg THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

there is no doubt that the sinister charm of the Byronic 
hero was an influence in this direction. The vampire — 
just as, previously, the noble bandit — ^took on a Bjronic 
colour. Refined by the touch of Byron’s hand, Schiller’s 
iRobber was eventually to become Jean Sbogar, the poly- 
glot brigand, musician and painter, pale and melancholy, 
lover of solitude and cemeteries, who, as though to relieve 
the terrible pain which devastates him behind his lofty, 
disdainful brow, frequently passes his hand, ‘blanche, 
delicate et frminine’, through his fair hair. Born under an 
imlucky star, convinced that ‘Dieu n’avait rien fait pour 
lui’, destined to suffer in solitude his eternal punishment, 
this bandit, whose fascinating eye pursues Antonia even 
in her sleep, is a close relation to the vampire of the 
Romantics, who naturally has nothing whatever to do 
with the werewolf of the popular Serbo-Croatian legend. 

13. It would be a waste of time to pass in review all the 
different incarnations of the Byronic Fatal Man during the 
Romantic period; the subject has been often discussed and 
offers no further interest for research. It is, however, 
worth remarking that, as hximanitarian ideas penetrated 
more and more into literature, the bandit finished by 
definitely taking on the character already hinted at by 
Schiller and Zschokke — becoming, in fact, a secret bene- 
factor, a nobleman with a dark past who devotes himself to 
a noble ideal, employs bandits as unconscious instruments 
of justice, and dreams of perfecting the world by com- 
mitting crimes. 

The Byronic heroes of the romans-feuilleton of such 
writers as Eugfene Sue and Paul Fdval are in reality, under 
their Satanic exterior, apostles of Good. Whether they are 
called Rodolphe or the Marquis de Rio-Santo, they loom 
gigantic in the midst of a net of intrigues which have for 
their object the salvation of the State — a curious popular 
reflection of the end of Byron’s career, as the champion of 
■^Greek independence. 

The following is a sort of oleograph portrait of the 
legendary Byron, dated as late as 1844:68 

‘C’^tait un homme d’une trentaine d’anndes, au moins en ap- 
parence, d’une taille haute, d^ante et de modMe aristocratique. . . . 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 79 

Quant k son visage, il offrait un remarquable type de beauti; son 
front haut, large, et sans ride, mais traverse de haut en bas par une 
legere cicatrice presque imperceptible quand sa physionomie etait 
au repos, s’encadrait d’une magnifique chevelure noire. On ne 
pouvait voir ses yeux; mais, sous sa paupifere baiss^, on devinait 
leur puissance. . . . Le front du r&veur etait pile et uni comme celui 
d’un enfent. . . . C’etait un homme tout de sensations . . . un homme 
capable k la fois du bien et du mal: g^n^reux par caractfere, franche- 
ment enthousiaste par nature, mais 6 goiste par occasion, froid par 
calcul, et d’humeur k vendre Tunivers pour un quart d’heure de 
plaisir. . , . Le marquis de Rio-Santo! T^blouissant, Tincomparable 
marquis! Londres et Paris se souviennent de ses equipages. 
L’Europe entiere admira ses magnificences orientales; Tunivers, 
enfin, savait qu’il d^pensait quatre millions chaque saison, . . . Rio- 
Santo arriva de Paris, oil il avait 6t6 pendant quatre ou cinq hivers 
de suite le roi de la mode. Il arriva suivi de son armee de laquais, 
de ses ecuries, de ses meutes royales et de plusieurs douzaines de 
baronnes qui se mouraient de riverie pour Tamour de ses cheveux 
noirs, de son teint pile et de ses fulgurants yeux bleus. . , , Les jeunes 
fillcs le voyaient en songe avec un ceil riveur, un front ravage, un 
nez d’aigle et un sourire infernal, mais divin. Ses cheveux, boud& 
natureli^ent, groupaient au hasard leurs meches gracieusement 
ond^. . . . “J® sais que vous ites puissant, milord,” r^pondit la 
comtesse . . . “puissant pour le mal comme I’ange d 6 chu. . . 

Remembering the famous banquet of May 1809 at 
Newstead Abbey, Fdval makes Rio-Santo preside at a 
sacrilegious orgy in the vaults of Sainte-Marie de Crewe. 
The participants are dressed as monks and disguised with 
false beards, and in this rather cumbersome costume dance 
and revel with half-naked bacchantes. In Fdval, as often 
happens with popular writers, the minor details of the 
Byronic legend are enlarged to spectacular size — ^in just 
the same way as the perspective is magnified in vignettes 
of hotel advertisements, 

14. This review of Byronic Fatal Men may conclude 
with Fdval’s highly sweetened Satan. But more interest- 
ing, because of the profound influence it was to have on 
the vital part of literature, is the element of vampirism 
which was latent in the Fatal Man Byron himself. 

Writing on Goethe^s Bride of Corinth^ Madame de 
Stael remarked^^> upon the ‘mdlange d'amour et d’ef&oi", 



8o THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the ‘volupt^ fiinfebre’, in the atmosphere of the scene in 
which ‘I’amour fait alliance avec la tombe, la beauts mSme 
ne semble qu’une apparition effrayante’. If this could be 
said of Goethe’s ballad it could be repeated with even more 
aptness of the vampire loves of the Byronic Fatal Man, 
Thus we come round again to our discussion of the pre- 
ceding chapter; having described there principally the 
aspect of beauty which attracted the Romantics, we will 
proceed now to an analysis of the kind of behaviour which 
is intimately connected with this type of beauty, to the 
action, real or imagined, which results from its contempla- 
tion. The caracthre maudit of love corresponds to the 
caracthe maudit of beauty, for on the one hand we read: 

’Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror, 
and on the other, corresponding to it: 

I loved her, and destroy’d her! ^ 

In a discourse delivered in 1824 at the Institut de 
France, the Academician Auger made this appeal against 
the Byronic fashion which was then prevalent in France: 

‘Ayez horreur de cette litt^rature de cannibales, qui se repaft 
de lambeaux de chair humaine et s’abreuve du sang des femmes 
et des enfants; elle ferait calomnier votre coeur, sans donner une 
meilleure idfe de votre esprit. Ayez horreur, avant tout, de cette 
po&ie misanthropique, ou plut6t infernale, qui semble avoir re 9 u 
sa mi^on de Satan mSme, pour pousser au crime, en le montrant 
toujours sublime et triomphant, pour d^gofiter ou d&ourager de la 
vertu, en la peignant toujours Aible, pusillanime et opprimfe!’?® 

The allusion here is certainly to Byron, as Estbve re- 
marks, but it is also to another figure whom Auger names 
only indirecdy (the last part of the passage repeats almost 
word for word a sentence in Sade’s preface to Justine : ‘nous 
aliens peindre le crime comme il est, e’est-k-dire toujours 
triomphant et sublime . . . et la vertu . . . toujours maus- 
sade et toujours triste, &c.’), but whom Sainte-Beuve was 
not ashamed to mention openly about twenty years later, 
by which time the atmosphere was even more heavily 
laden w^Jond de cale exhalations: 

‘J’oserai affirmer, sans crainte d’etre dementi, que Byron et de 
Sade (je demande pardon du rapprochement) ont peut-6tre les 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 8r 

deux plus grands Inspirateurs de nos modemes, I’un affichd et visible, 
I’autre clandestin, — pas trop clandestin. En lisant certains de nos 
romanciers en vogue, si vous voulez le fond du coifre, I’escalier 
secret de I’alcove, ne perdez jamais cette derniere clef.’ 

With all that is known to-day about Byron’s character, 
the distance does not seem so great between the Divine 
Marquis and the Satanic Lord. Certainly the works of the 
one are in the hands of ail, while those of the other are 
relegated to the enfer of the library; Byron was a poet and 
a celebrated man, Sade only a lewd ‘philosopher’; but the 
precepts to be derived from the poems and, particularly, 
from the life of the one, and from the unnameable lucubra- 
tions of the other, were not so entirely different but that the 
French Romanticists were able to combine them and thus 
pave the way from the imitation of Byron to the less 
exalted part of Baudelaire’s work and to the literature of 
the Decadence. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER II 


I Lit. trans.: 

‘Horrid majesty in his fierce aspect increases terror, and makes him more superb; 
his eyes are red, and their glance infected with poison dazzles like an ill-boding 
comet; shaggy and dense his great beard covers his chin and descends upon his 
hairy breast; and like a deep abyss his mouth opens, foul with dark blood. 

‘Just as sulphurous, flaming smoke comes forth from Mongibello, and stink 
and thunder, so from the fleroe mouth comes forth his black breath, so are the 
foulness and the sparks.* 

* Lit. trans.: 

‘In his eyes, where sadness and death have their abode, flames a troubled, crimson 
light. His oblique looks and crooked glances are like comets, like lightning- 
flashes his regard. And from his nostrils and from his wan lips he vomits and 
brings forth fog and foulness; angry, superb and desperate, his groans are 
thunder, his breath lightning.’ 

3 Lit. trans.: ‘How much is in his eyes of terror and death.’ 

4 Lit. trans.: ‘Wretched, and how didst thou lose thy pristine splendour, 
O one-time fairest Angel of light !’ 

3 Lit. trans.: 

‘Not yet is the spirit of that pristine valour extinct in you, when girt with steel 
and lof^ flames once we fought against the empire of Heaven. We were — ^that 
will I not deny— vanquished in that conflict: yet the great intention was not 
lacking in nobility. Something or other gave Him victory: to us remained 
the glory of a dauntless daring.* 

^ Lit. trans.: ‘And even if my troop fell thence vanquished, yet to have 
attempted a lofty enterprise is still a trophy. . . 

7 Lit. trans.: 

‘Ah, art thou not that glorious creature, once prince of the shining Loves, first 
star of the morning Heaven, first light of the winged Choirs ? . . . Alas, but what 
avails it for me, hopeless, to turn my mind to my pristine state? . . . But what 
force do I fear? I did not lose, with my ancient purity, my lofty nature.* 

® On this source of derivation of Milton’s Lucifer see O. H. Moore, 
‘The Infernal Council’, in Modem Philology^ vol. xix (192 1-2), pp. 
47-64. 

® Paradise Lost, i, lines 84-7- 

Paradise Lost, i, lines 589-604. 

Histoire de la littiramre anglaise (ed. 1892, ii, pp. 506-7). 

The Marriage of Heaven and HelL 

> *3 E, H. Visiak, Milton Jgonistes, a Metaphysical Study (London, 
Philpot, 1923). 

34 E. W. Tillyard, Milton (London, Chatto and Windus, 1930), 
p. 277. 

r *5 See the discussion on this subject in H. J. C. Grierson, Cross Currents 
'^in English Literature of the XFIIth Century (London, Chatto and Windus, 
1929)* PP- 254 et seq. 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 85 

In The Revolt of Islam the serpent is the symbol of Good oppressed 
by Evil: Canto I, especially stanza 27: 

For the new race of man went to and fro. 

Famished and homeless, loathed and loathing, wild. 

And hating good — ^for his immortal foe. 

He changed from starry shape, beauteous and mild. 

To a dire Snake, with man and beast unreconciled. 

The type of the ‘noble bandit’ is of very ancient date. It was well 
known in the Hellenistic period. Cf. E. Rohde, Der griechtscke Roman 
(Leipzig, Breitkopf und Hartel, 1876), p. 3 57 and footnote there. There- 
fore the theory that the Romantic type of the magnanimous bandit is derived 
from Amadis de Gauie is somewhat naive. Larat, for example (fa Tradition 
et r exotisme dans Vceuvre de Charles Nodier, Paris, Champion, 1923, voLi, 
pp. 1 1 5-24, ‘Le Th^me du brigand gdndreux*), basing his theory upon 
the interpretations of I. Babbit (Rousseau and Romanticism) and E. Seilli^re 
(fe Mysticisme dimocratique) says: 

‘C*est k Amadis de Gauie — roman du XVIe sikde — qu’il faudrait faire re- 
monter les manifestations litt^raires de g 4 n^rosit 6 dans la r^volte, qui devaient 
aboutir aux portraits de brigands redre^urs de torts si fort en vogue dans la 
litt^rature europ^enne, aprks le succks de Goetsc de Berlichingen et du drame 
de Schiller. Le brigand typique du XDCe sikcle serait done en quelque sorte 
un don Quichotte furieux et juvenile.’ 

The characteristic quality of the sublime criminal of the Romantics, 
however, is satanism. Yet Schiller himself may at the first glance give the 
impression that he was repeating the traditional type, when he declares 
(in the Selhstrecension) that he had modelled his Karl Moor on Roque 
Guinart, the bandit in Don Quixote who was by nature ‘compasivo e bien 
intencionado’ (part ii, ch. lx). The difference between Karl Moor and 
Roque did not escape Krager (H. Krager, Der Byronsche Heldentypus^ 
Munich, Haushalter, 1898 — ^Forschungen zur neueren Litteratur- 
geschichte, vi), p. 13. Some, however, consider the influence of Milton 
to be secondary. Thus L. A. Willoughby (edition of the Rauher, London, 
Milford, Oxford University Press, 1922), who, however, brings forward 
a very superficial reason (p. 20): 

‘The motives for the rebellion, in one case against divine Providence, in the 
other against man-made law, are so different, that the influence must not be 
overrated.* 

This trait was remembered by Nodier in his Jean Sbogar (see below): 

‘Jean Sbogar ne fut remarque du tribunal que par cette expression plus 
qu’humaine de physionomie qui etait le trait caracteristique de son signalement, 
et qui le faisait tenir, selon Texpression de Schiller, de Tange, du demon et du 
dieu* (frilminairei)* 

The Miltonic colouring of the Rauher has already been noticed by 
Krager (op. cit., especially p. 14). Krager’s study is mainly concerned 
with the relation between Milton, Schiller, and Byron, and ignores the 
importance of the ‘tale of terror’ in the origin of the Byronic hero. Thus 
(p. 45) he imagines the physical aspect of the Byronic hero to be derived 
from painting (Ribera, Rembrandt), whereas it is copied from Mrs. 
Radcliffe’s villains, as will be shown. 



84 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Cf. the words of the Amrthsement zu der ersten Auffuhrung der 
Rau^er: ‘Unrestrained ardour and bad company ruined his heart — ^they 
dragged him from vice to vice — ^until he found himself at the head of a 
band of incendiaries, piled horror upon horror, plunged from abyss to 
abyss, into all the depths of desperation’, with the words of Roque Guinart: 

‘Y como un abismo llama a otro y un pecado i otro pecado, hanse esla- 
bonado las venganzas de manera. . . 

For the sources of the Rauber as well as for the vast number of imita- 
tions and derivatives from this play, see the essay in Willoughby’s edition 
mentioned above. 

These parallels were noticed by E. Birkhead, ^ke Tale of Terror^ 
A Study of the Gothic Romance (London, Constable, 1921), pp. 53 et seq. 
The sarcastic grin which became so typical of Romantic satanism goes 
back therefore to Shakespeare’s Cassius. E. Railo, The Haunted Castle^ 
A Study of the Elements of English Romanticism (London, Routledge, and 
New York, Dutton, 1927), p. 372, note 238, wrongly conjectures that 
this grin may have been an invention of Scott (the grin of Mortham in 
Rokeby^ 1813). 

^3 On this subject see my study on MachiaveUi and the Elizabethans^ 
Annual Italian Lecture of the British Academy, 1928 (^Proceedings of the 
British Academy^ voL xiii, London, Milford). 

^ Life and Correspondence, See also C.F. McIntyre, 

Ann Radcliffe in relation to her Time (New Haven, 1920, Yale Studies in 
English, Ixii), pp. 64 et seq. Certain qualities of Mrs. Radcliffe’s type are 
to be found in many other characters in literature previous to her. See 
Railo, op. cit., p. 219, Besides Shakespeare and Milton, Walpole must be 
remembered (the tyrant type in The Castle of Otranto), Beckford (Eblis 
in Fathek), Sec. 

*5 Regarding the success of Schiller’s and Zschokke’s dramas in France 
see, besides Willoughby, op. cit., E. Est^ve, Byron etle romantisme frangais 
(Paris, Boivin, 1929, 2nd edition), p. 31, and E. Eggli, Schiller et le 
romantisme frangais (Paris, Gamber, 1927), vol. ii, pp. 323-37, and 
vol. i, pp. 137 et seq. 

^ Astarte, by Ralph Milbanke, Earl of Lovelace, revised and expanded 
edition by the Countess of Lovelace (London, Christophers, 1921).* 

27 Cf. Radcliffe, The Italian, apropos of Schedoni: 

‘notwithstanding all this gloom and austerity, some rare occasions of interest 
had calM forth a character upon his countenance entirely different; and he could 
adapt himself to the tempers and passions of persons whom he wished to con- 
ciliate, 8fc.’ 

** It is the smile of Shakespeare’s Cassius {Julius Caesar, i. ii, lines 
202-4) = 

Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort 
As if he mock’d himself, and scorn’d his spirit 
That could be mov’d to smile at any thing. 



85 


THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 

29 Cf. Schiller, Die Rauber, Vorrede: 

*Ein merkwfirdiger, wichtiger Mensch, ausgestattet mit aller Kraft, nach 
der Richtung, die diese bekommt, nothwendig entweder ein Brutus oder 
ein Catilina zu werden. Ungluckliche Conjuncturen entscheiden fOr das 
Zweite . . .* 

39 See stanza v: 

That brow in furrow’d lines had fix'd at last. 

And spoke of passions^ but of passions past: 

The pride, but not the fire, of early days. 

Coldness of mien, and carelessness of praise; 

A high demeanour, and a glance that took 
Their thoughts from others by a single look. 

And some deep feeling it nxtere <vain to trace 
At moments lighten’d o’er his li^d face. 

Cf. the following passage from Mrs. Radcliffe, op. cit.: 

*. . . the paleness of his face. . . • There was something in his physiognomy 
extremely singular, and that cannot easily be defined. It bore the traces of 
many/^zxfiitwrr, which seemed to have fixed features they no longer animated, . . , 
His eyes were so piercing, that they seemed to penetrate, at a single glance, into 
the hearts of men, and to read their most secret thoughts' 

It is clear that it is a case of parallels, not only of ideas, but of actual words. 

3 ^ A similar fascination is exercised by the sinister monk Schedoni in 
Mrs. RadclifPe’s novel. Railo (op. cit., pp. 222 et seq.) sees in Scott’s 
rather Raddiffean character of Marmion a connecting link between Mrs. 
Radcliffe’s villain and the Byronic hero: 

‘To my mind, the romantic admiration displayed for Marmion, which is 
expressed with the utmost clarity and even infects the reader, is in the first place 
something novel when compared with his predecessors, while in the second 
place it is exactly what Byron aimed at in his own sombre hero. Marmion 
thus becomes, in a quite spedal sense, a bridge between two stages of develop- 
ment,* 

It must, however, be noticed that the element of admiration was already 
present in the case of Milton’s Satan; and that in any case Byron was 
guided by a spontaneous inversion of values to identify himself with the 
Schedoni type. The connecting link of Scott is therefore superfluous, 

32 Railo (op. cit., p. 372, note 242) is of opinion that the Corsair is 
a pirate after the manner of Mortham in Scott’s Rokeby. 

33 According to Chateaubriand, Byron wrote to him immediately after 
the publication of Atalax 

*Au surplus, un document trancherait la question si je le poss^dais. Lorsque 
Atala parut, je re^us une lettre de Cambridge, sign^ G. Gordon, lord Byron. 
Lord Byron, ^ge de quinze ans, 6tait un astre non lev^: des milliers de lettres de 
critiques ou de felicitations m’accablaient; vingt secretaires n’auraient pas suffi 
pour mettre k jour cette dnorme correspondance. J’etais done contraint de 
jeter au feu les trois quarts de ces lettres, et k choisir seulement, pour remercier 
ou me defendre, les signatures les plus obligatoires. Je crois cependant me 
souvenir d’avoir repondu k lord Byron; mais il est possible aussi que le billet 



86 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

de r^tudiant de Cambridge ait subi le sort commun. En ce cas mon impolitesse 
forc^e se sera changee en offense dans un esprit irascible} il aura puni mon silence 
par le sien, Combien j’ai regrett^ depuis les glorieuses lignes de la premiere 
jeunesse d’un grand pofete V 

Now Atala came out in i8oi; Byron did not go to Cambridge till 
October 1805. In 1801 Byron was a thirteen-year-old schoolboy at 
Harrow. But Chateaubriand’s assertion can be proved wrong even without 
falling back upon external argument. How, actually, could the letter of 
an olScure student have been remembered particularly among so many 
thousands of other letters? And if it had impressed Chateaubriand why 
should he have destroyed it? It is therefore probable that the author of 
Atala may have confused, or, on the most favourable supposition, have 
believed that he could identify, with Byron a Cambridge correspondent 
whose name he had forgotten. In this connexion see Sainte-Beuve, Chateau- 
hriand et son groupe^ &c., vol. ii, p. 79: ‘Chateaubriand etait fort distrait 
sur les noms propres qu’il savait le mieux’. Commenting upon the 
passage in the M/moires d^ outre-tom he, Sainte-Beuve wrote (op. cit., 
p. 193 n.): 

‘Mais ce qui est plus fort que tout, ^num^rant les pr^tendues injustices et les 
omissions jalouses dont il aurait et^ Tobjet de la part de lord Byron et des autres, 
il reproche k Mme de Stael de ne Tavoir pas nomm6 dans son livre de la Litti- 
raturei “Un autre talent sup^rieur a ^vit^ mon nom dans un ouvrage sur la 
LitUrOturer Et proclamant k Tinstant son enthousiasme pour Mme de Stael 
comme pour lord Byron, il se donne les honneurs de la g6n6rosit6. Il oublie 
tout k fait que Mme de Stael ne pouvait le nommer dans ce livre public mjant 
qu’il se ffit donn^ k connaltre, et ii parait encore moins se souvenir que son 
premier acte de publicity en France fut d’attaquer ce m^me livre oh il s’^tonne 
naivement de ne point figurer.’ 

The case of the letter which he claimed to have received from Byron must 
belong to the same category. See also as well, ad abundantiam, on the 
subject of the truthfulness of Chateaubriand in general, Sainte-Beuve’s 
book, vol. i, pp. 93, 279-80; ii, p. 385. 

L. Reynaud, Le Romantisme, ses ortgines anglo-germaniques, (Paris, 
Colin, 1926), p. 187. 

35 Things were different in France. 

*Ren^ ne fait autre chose que tracer id (et c’est sa gloire d’avoir 4t6 le premier k 
le concevoir et k le remplir) Titin^raire po6tique que tous les talents de notre 
ftge suivront; car tous, k commencer par Chateaubnand lui-m6me qui n’ex^cuta 
que plus tard ce qu’il avait suppos6 dans Renl, ils parcourront avec des variantes 
d’impressions le m^me cercle, et recommenceront le mSme p^lerinage: Tltalie, 
la Gxhce, I’Orient.’ 

Thus Sainte-Beuve, op. dt., vol. i, p. 378. 

36 Compare espedaliy, Childe Harold, i, st. 4: 

Then loathed he in his native land to dwell. 

Which seem’d to him more lone than Eremite’s sad relh 

RenSi *Je me trouvai bientdt plus isold dans ma patrie que je ne I’aurais ^t6 
sur um terre 6tcanghre.* 



87 


THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 

Childe Harold^ id., st. 5: 

... he loved but one. 

And that loved one, alas ! could ne*er be his. 

Renei ‘c’etait [his sister] la seule personne au monde que j’eusse aim^’. 

On the other hand, the passage (stanza 9) ‘And none did love him . . 
takes us back to Richard III and the villains of the ‘tales of terror’, as does 
also, to the latter, the description of Harold’s impious revels — z. charac- 
teristic quite lacHng in Reni, 

37 See Monglond, op. cit., i, pp. 236 et seq., especially 255. 

38 i, p. 371, See the 14th and 15th lectures (vol. i) for Rent’s con- 
nexion with similar and related types. 

3 ® Edition Garnier, vol. iii, pp. 297 and 357. 

Ibid., p. 506, 

For instance the allusion to the vampire in The Giaoun 
But first, on earth as Vampire sent. 

Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent: 

Then ghastly haunt thy native place. 

And suck the blood of all thy race; 
rThen from thy daughter, sister, wife, 

^ At midnight drain the stream of life, etc. 

Reynaud, op. cit., pp. 187 n., 188-90. 

43 See E. Colburn Mayne, (London, Methuen, 1924), p. 252; 
H. Richter, Lord Byron (Halle, Niemeyer, 1929), pp. 288-9, both of 
which bear witness of the extent to which the subject of incest was in the 
air at that time. See also chap, viii of Railo’s book already quoted. Incest 

)find Romantic Eroticism. Monglond (op. dt., vol. i, p. 2 5 8): ‘Pour la “crimi- 
nelle passion”, on renonce k I’interprdter comme une confidence auto- 
biographique, quand on sait de quelle abondante littdrature die n’est que 
le reflet littdraire’. See also the study to which Monglond alludes in a note. 
^Love between brother and sister was a favourite subject of the German 
Sturm und Drang; e.g. Die Braut von Messina. 

44 Gdme du Ckristianisme^ Deuxi^me Partie, iv. 9. On Milton and 
Chateaubriand see the thesis of J. M. Telleen, Milton dans la littirature 
frangaise (Paris, Hachette, 1904), chap, vii; and H. M. Miller, ChaUau- 
lA>riand and English Literature (Baltimore and Paris, 1925; The Johns 
-/Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages, vol. iv). 

43 This attitude is already to be found in the novds of the Abbe Prevost, 
especially in Cleveland. See B. M. Woodbridge, ‘Romantic Tendendes 
in the Novels of the Abb^ Provost’, in Publications of the Modern Languages 
Assn, of America^ New Series, vol. xxvi (1911), p. 327; and Monglond, 
op. cit., vol. i, pp. 244 et seq. 

46 Letters and JoumalSy vol. ii., p. 382. 

47 Ch. du Bos, Byron et le besoin de la fataliti (Paris, Au Sans Pareil, 
1929), p. 158. 

48 Cf. Krager, op. cit., p. 136, note 24: 

f ‘Byron wished to test the overwhelming power of passion by the overcoming of 
'^obstades which he put in its path. Even in the simplest of his works, Sardanap^Si 



88 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

he obstructs the course of love by means of a prohibition, since Myrrha is an 
Ionian slave, and as a republican and a Greek must recoil from the king and 
the barbarian, Sardanapalus. But her inclination towards him is increased by 
this very opposition and by the hatred which her duty demands from her. In 
The Deformed Transformed the love between Polixena and Achilles is steeped 
in blood, since the maiden loves the man who has killed her brother. Byron 
had an almost morbid predilection for such conflicts of feeling — ^the love for 
that from which one ought to flee. Straightforward sensations were not enough 
for him: he was never so satisfied as when he saw shadows of death blighting a 
marriage-bed.* 

The only love, apart from a mere temporary excitement of the senses, 
which Byron was able to feel, was for a being who already closely resembled 
him, tuned, so to speak, to the same key, exactly as his half-sister was 
(cf. Manfredy Act II, sc. 2: ‘She was like me in lineaments, &c.’) In the 
case of other women, the obstacles of a difference of temperament which 
had to be overcome in order to attain to a spiritual unison were too great 
for a nature as tightly shut up within itself as Byron’s. Shelley, another 
egocentric, presents a similar case (contrast his conduct towards Harriet 
with his sentiments of abstract universal love). His feminine ideal, as 
described in JIastor, is a mere projection of himself: 

He dreamed a veiiM maid 
Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones.'^ 

Her voice was like the voice of his own soul 
Heard in the calm of thought, etc. 

See also my remarks on Poe, chap, iu, § 20. 

Maurois, Byron (Paris, Grasset, 1930, and London, Cape, 1930), 
maintains that Byron’s incest was an imaginary crime, because Augusta 
was only a half-sister and Byron did not know her until they were both 
quite grown-up. An imaginary crime, possibly, but Byron from the first 
sought to represent it as a crime, and what counts is not the actual incest 
but the consciousness of committing it. 

Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron, by the Countess of 
Blessington, 1834, p. 317. 

For the ‘apologie des passions’ on the part of the ‘Encyclopedistes’, 
see Monglond, op. cit, vol. i, pp. 189 et seq. 

London, Constable, 1929. See especially chaps, xi et seq. 

Letter to Miss Milbanke, Sept, 6th, 1813. 

54 On this particular source of sensations, see Du Bos, op. cit., pp. 1 17 n., 
31 1, and 321. 

55 Annabella confessed that ‘there were moments when she could have 
plunged a dagger in Augusta’s heart’. 

56 Marino Fa/iero, Act V, sc, 2, line ii. 

57 Certain passages of Cain (Lucifer’s description of the Divinity, Act I, 
sc. r, the haughty prayer of Cain, Act III, sc. 3) and o£ Heaven and Earth 
(the chorus of mortals threatened by the waters) reveal the same attitude 
tovrards Divinity as the fourth chorus of Svrinburne’s Atalanta in 
Calydoni Lord Houghton actually cites Byron as the inspirer of this chorus, 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 89 

though he could not have been ignorant of its real source, the Marquis de 
Sade (see chap, iv, § 16). Read for example Lucifer’s discourse; 

Souls who dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in 
His everlasting face, and tell him that 
His evil is not good ! If he has made, 

As he saith — ^which I know not, nor believe — 

But, if he made us — ^he cannot unmake: 

We are immortal! nay, he’d have us so. 

That he may torture: — ^let him! He is great — 

But, in his greatness, is no happier than 
We in our conflict: Goodness would not make 
Evilj and what else hath he made ? But let him 
Sit on his vast and solitary throne. 

Creating worlds, to make eternity 

Less burthensome to his immense existence 

And unparticipated solitude; 

Let him crowd orb on orb: he is alone 
Indefinite, indissoluble tyrant; 

Could he but crush himself, ’twere the best boon 
He ever granted: but let him reign on. 

And multiply himself in misery! 

Spirits and Men, at least we sympathize — 

And, sulFering in concert, make our pangs 
Innumerable more endurable, 

By the unbounded sympathy of all 

With all! But He\ so wretched in his height, 

So restless in his wretchedness, must still 
Create, and re-create — 

The Maker— call him 

Which name thou wilt: he makes but to destroy. 

Is not this the same theological conception as was at the root of Anactoria 
and of Chorus IV oiAtalantal Is not this the same cruel God, ‘the supreme 
evil, God’, as 

With offering and blood-sacrifice of tears 
With lamentation from strange lands . . . 

With sorrow of labouring moons, and altering light 
And travail of the planets of the night, 

And weeping of the weary Pleiads seven. 

Feeds the mute melancholy lust of heaven 

Who hath made all things to break them one by one . . . 


Is not his incense bitterness, his meat 

Murder t (Anactoria) 

^^And is not His creatures’ cry of rebellion the same? 

Because thou art cruel and men are piteous. 

And our hands labour and thine hand scattereth . . . 



90 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

At least we witness of thee ere we die 
That these things are not otherwise, but thus; 

That each man in his heart sigheth, and saith, 

That all men, even as I, 

All we are against thee, against thee, O God most high. 

{Atalanta^ Chorus IV.) 

But, as Swinburne explicitly declared, this is exactly the theology of 
^_^ade, for whom the author of the universe is the most malignant of all 
beings. He who creates only to destroy (see chap, iii, § 5). A similar con- 
ception of a cruel, vindictive God is expounded in the words of Ahasuerus, 
the Wandering Jew of Canto VII of Shelley’s Queen Mab^ 

s® Manfred, Act II, sc. i and 2. Actually the remarks of the London 
newspapers at the time of the scandal of Byron’s separation were not so 
very far from the truth. Byron was represented as ‘a wretch whose organs, 
blunted by the habits and excesses of the most monstrous debauchery, 
could no longer find any means of excitement or stimulation except in 
ithe images of terror, suffering and destruction with which a crime-stained 
(soul furnished him only too easily’ (Est^ve, op. cit., p. 73). 

* “11 a toujours voulu se d^truire, ce Byron”: c*est sur ce mot que, dans La 
Mort de Venise, s*ach^ve revocation que fait Barrfes de Tombre byronienne 
parmi celles “qui flottent sur les couchants de TAdriatique”, et parce qu’k telles 
heures de sa vie lui-m^me avait ^t^ si sensible k la volupt6 de se d^truire, nul 
mieux que Barr^ n’^tait qualifi^ pour prononcer* (Du Bos, op. cit., p. 213). 

The sketch of Byron at Venice in the Cakiers of Barres is worth notice 
(voL ii, Paris, 1930, p. 268): 

‘Byron, le plus grand po^te et le plus grand philosophe. Son Don Juan est 
la plus haute philosophie. II fut un sc^^rat et un merveilleux po^te. Tous les 
Byrons sont des sc 61 ^tsj il n’y a pas de crime que n’aient commis son p^re 
et sa m^re. Quand il mourut, son cerveau, un cerveau formidable, sup^rieur, 
je crois, k celui de Cuvier, 4 tait une masse affreuse, detruite, en bouiUie, par 
Talcool, Topium, tous les abus destructeurs, un cloaque. Il a fait souffrir, tortur^ 
tout autour de lui. Comme il avait une 4 motivite formidable, il a aussi exprime 
les plus hautes, les plus nobles id^. C’est tr^s naturel qu’il y soit sensible; les 
communards furent, en m^me temps que des bandits, les etres les plus accessibles 
aux giandes causes g^nteuses et seuls susceptibles de se faiie tuer pour elles. . . . 
Il a toujours voulu se detruiie, ce Byron.’ 

Ethel Colburn Mayne, Lady Byron, op. cit., p. 334, 

60 Byron noted in his diary, Feb. 20th, 1814; ‘Redde Tke Robbers, 
Fine — ^but Fiesco is better’. The Corsair had already been finished, Dec. 
13th, 1813. 

In this respect at any rate the influence of Chateaubriand is secondary 
to that of Byron. See Est^ve, op. cit., p. 42: 

‘Qui pouvait-on, en France, mettre en comparaison avec lui ? . . , Chateau- 
briand, certes, fait grande figure dans le monde litttoiie, mais ce n’est qu’un 
prosateur de g^nie, et, depuis 1814, il a vers^ dans la politique. Rene, pair de 
France, ambassadeur et ministre, a perdu Faur^ole de la solitude et du malheur.* 

See also pp. 517-18. 



THE METAMORPHOSES OF SATAN 91 

See Eggli, op. cit., voL ii, p. 335. Eggli is right in observing that 
‘les donnees essentielles du drame sont visiblement apparentees a celles 
des Brigands\ As for the derivations of the Byronic hero in England, see 
yW. C. Phillips, Die kens 9 Reade and CoIHnSj Sensation Novelists, New York, 
Columbia University Press, 1919, pp. 155 ff. Chiefly Bulwer-Lytton gave 
a tame version of that hero in Paul Clifford and Eugene Aram, Byron had 
represented the Corsair as a heroic outlaw with a thousand vices and one 
virtue; Bulwer-Lytton strove to multiply the one virtue of the type, to 
cast on his crime a light which did not prevent, rather invited, compassion 
and regret on the part of the reader. Thus the Byronic hero became 
adapted to the bourgeois age, and offered a means to attack tte way inv^ 
which justice was administered in England. Against the kind of novel 
written by Bulwer-Lytton and the so-called Newgate School, Thackeray 
reacted with Catherine (1839-40), Barry Lyndon (1844), and George de 
Barnwell (1847), where the figure of the noble outlaw is held up to 
ridicule. 

Cf. for example La Nouvelle Hllotse, Troisi^me Partie, Lettre XVI, 
from Saint-Preux: 

‘J’aime mieux te perdre que te partager . . . avant que ta main se fQt avilie 
dans ce noeud funeste abhorr^ par Tamour et r^prouve par Thonneur, j’irais de la 
mienziie te plonger un poignard dans le sein. . . . Je voudrais que tu ne fusses 
plus; mais je ne puis t’aimer assez pour te poignarder.* 

See the passage quoted in note 41 of this chapter. 

^5 This ballad by Goethe inspired Gautier’s poem Les Taches jaunes, 
and particularly the story La Morte amoureuse. ( See chap, iv, § 10.) 

66 For the success of this tale and on vampirism in general see V. M. 
Yovanovitch, La Guzla de Prosper Mirim de, etude d^histoire romantique 
(Paris, Hachette, 1911); and S. Hock, Die Vampyrsage und ihre Ver~ 
wertung in der deutseken Literatur (Berlin, Duncker, 1900: Forschungen 
fur neueren Litteraturgeschichte, xvii). See also Est^ve, op. cit., pp. 76 
et seq. Kraift-Ebing, in Psychopatkia Sexualis (zwolfte Auflage, Stuttgart, 
Enke, 1903, p. 99) connects the vampire legend with sadism. 

67 Milanges de httirature et de critique (Paris, 1820), vol. i, p. 4x7. 

68 Les My s tires de Londres, by P. Feval (1844). 

69 De PAllemag^e, Deuxi^me Partie, ch. xiii. 

76 Related by Est^ve, op. cit., p. 130. 

71 ‘Quelques verites sur la situation en litterature’, in the Revue des deux 
mondes, 1843, vol. iii, p. 14; republished in Portraits contemporains, 
tome iii, p. 415. 




CHAPTER III 

THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE 
MARQUIS 


Et ces regards msolites! 

II y en a sous la <voute desquels on asstste a Vexicutim d^unenjterge dans 
une salle close, 

MAETERLINCK, Regards (Serres chaudes). 

En ache«uant de relire ce recueil^ je crois <voir pourquoi Vintirit, tout 
faible qdU est, rden est si agrdable^ et U sera^jepense, a tout lecteur d*un 
bon naturel: dest qu'au moins ce faible interit est pur et sans fnilange de 
peine; qtCtl n* est point excite par des notrceurs^ par des crimes^ ni miU du 
tourment de hair, Je ne saurais concenjoir quel plaisir on peut prendre a 
tmaginer et composer Upersonnage d*un sciUrat^ a se mettre d sa place tandis 
qu'on le reprisente^ d hit priter Vlclat le plus imposant, Je plains beaucoup 
les auteurs de tant de tragedies pleines d'horreurs^ lesquels passent leur me 
d faire agir et parler des gens qtdon ne peut icouter ni nioir sans souffrir. 
11 me semble qu'on denirait gimir d'itre condamni a un travail si cruel; ceux 
qui s'en font un amusement doivent itre bien ddvoris du %lle de Vutihti 
publique. Pour moi^f admire de bon cceurleurs talents et leurs beaux giniesi 
mais je remercie Dieu de ne me les avoir pas donnis, 

ROUSSEAU, marpnal note to La Nouvelle H61oise. 

Talma gekort nun ganz. eigentlich der neusten Welt an, ,, , Wir selbst 
vjaren Zeuge, mit voelchem Gluck er sick in etne Tyrannenseele einzugeisten 
tracktete; erne bosarttge,heuchlensche Gevoalttattgkeit ausxudrucken gelang 
thm am besten. Dock voar es ihm zuletzi am Nero mcktgenug; man lese, vote 
er sick mit einem Tiber des Chinkr zu identifixieren suchte und man <wird 
ganz das Pemhche des Romanttztsmus darinfinden, 

GOETHE, FranzSsisches Haupttheater. 




CHAPTER m 

THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE 
MARQUIS 

I. In the year 1842 Louis Reybaud (in Jerome Paturot 
a la recherche d*une position sociale^ vol. i, p. 149) presented 
the writers of romans-feuilleton with a mock receipt to the 
following effect: 

‘Vous prenez, mdsieur, par exemple, une jeune femme, malheu- 
reuse et pers4cut6e. Vous lui adjoignez un tyran sanguinaire et 
brutal, un page sensible et vertueux, un confident sournois et perfide. 
Quand vous tenez en main tons ces personnages, vous les mfelez 
ensemble, vivement, en six, huit, dix feuilletons, et vous servez 
chaud.’ 

The unfortunate, persecuted maiden! The subject is 
as old as the world,* but was refurbished in the eighteenth 
century by Richardson with his very celebrated heroine 
Clarissa Harlowe, that young lady of great virtue and 
beauty who, ensnared and seduced by the libertine Love- 
lace and persecuted by her implacable parents, becomes 
ill with grief and fades slowly away amid the funeral 
pomps of an exemplary death. This is how the author 
expresses himself upon the cruel fate of this innocent 
girl, in the words of Mr, Belford, Lovelace’s corre- 
spondent 

‘What a fine subject for tragedy, would the injuries of this lady, 
and her behaviour under them, both with regard to her implacable 
friends, and to her persecutor, make! What a grand objection as to 
the moral, nevertheless,® for here virtue is punished! Except indeed 
we look forward to the rewards of hereafter, which, morally, she 
must be sure of, or who can? Yet, after all, I know not, so sad a 
fellow art thou, and so vile an husband mightest thou have made, 
whether her virtue is not rewarded in missing thee: for things the 
most grievous to human nature, when they happen, as this charming 
creature once observed, are often the happiest for us in the event.’ 

A comparison of this heroine with the one in Nicholas 
Rowe’s The Fair Penitent shows how much more suitable 
the title is to Clarissa. Hers was indeed a penitence, hers 
a true Christian piety! 



96 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

With the declared purpose of enlightening parents and 
marriageable girls, Richardson makes his readers, through 
a good eight volumes, spectators of the slow Calvary of 
pious Clarissa, displays her, pitiful little lamb among 
greedy wolves, in a disorderly house and a debtors’ prison, 
and finally on her deathbed, imparting her last wishes, for- 
giving every one, and even ordering devices for her coffin, 
which she makes them bring into her room in order that she 
may use it as a writing-desk. Thus Miss Clarissa Harlowe 
languishes, wastes away, and dies of grief in the blossom of 
her youth and beauty, Clarissa Harlowe ‘who, her tender 
years [she was nineteen^ considered, has not left behind her 
her superior in extensive knowledge and watchful pru- 
dence; nor hardly her equal for unblemished virtue, ex- 
emplary piety, sweetness of manners, discreet generosity 
and true Christian charity. . . 

Virtue is persecuted in this world, but will triumph 
Jiltimately in Heaven; in fact Lovelace actually dreams® 
that he sees the angelic figure of Clarissa, clad all in white, 
ascending with choirs of angels to the region of the Sera- 
phim, while an abyss opens in the ground at the feet of 
her seducer, who falls headlong into a bottomless chasm — 
almost exactly as was to happen in the case of the most 
celebrated of all the persecuted maidens, Margaret in 
Faust Another dream, anticipating the future calamities 
of Clarissa,^ seems also to anticipate the wild and sinister 
developments of the ‘persecuted woman’ theme. Clarissa 
dreams that Lovelace, ‘seizing upon her, carries her into 
a churchyard; and there, notwithstanding all her prayers 
and tears, and protestations of innocence, stabs her to the 
heart, and then tumbles her into a deep grave ready dug, 
among two or three half-dissolved carcases; throwing in 
the dirt and earth upon her with his hands, and trampling 
it down with his feet’. 

It has repeatedly been remarked that the unctuous 
pietism of Richardson’s novels succeeds in covering only 
in appearance their sensual, turbid background. Certainly 
the art of Richardson, founded, as it was, upon accurately 
observed manners, could not well avoid certain contradic- 
tions in its effort to conciliate morality with the unbridled 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 97 
sensuality of the period. Clarissa gets herself abducted by 
Lovelace and at the same time writes to her sister — ^whose 
betrothed she has just stolen — to send her books of 
morality. Lovelace boasts of his wicked conduct, gives 
himself the airs of an unscrupulous libertine (Diderot^ 
found in him ‘les sentiments d’un cannibale’, ‘le cri d’une 
b£te f^roce’), shuts up Clarissa in a house of ill fame, drugs 
and violates her, and at the same time professes his love for 
her and declares that he wdshes to marry her. 

Whether this contradiction of intention and result was 
an inevitable consequence of the author’s realistic attitude, 
which brought him to accept the facts as shown him in his 
surroundings, or whether it was simply an effect of his own 
individual psychological situation (Richardson, in conse- 
quence of the materialistic philosophy then predominant, 
was at bottom a supporter of the instinct against whose 
manifestations he preached in the name of a virtue which 
he estimated also by materialistic standards),^ the fact re- 
mains that his moralizing reveals itself fully for what it was 
— namely, little more than a veneer — in his French imi- 
tators, who sought in the subject of the persecuted woman 
chiefly an excuse for situations of heightened sensuality.'^ 

2. This fact is sufiiciently obvious in Diderot’s Re- 
Hgieuse, a novel which, although based on a scandal which 
really happened,*® adopts the scheme of Richardson’s 
novels,** and offers a detailed picture of physical and 
moral tortures, ostensibly intended for the object of anti- 
clerical propaganda, but revealing in effect, on the part of 
the author, a certain complaisance which shortly after- 
wards was to take its name from another French writer, 
the Marquis de Sade. The manner in which Diderot 
proclaims incessantly the virtue of his heroine gives the 
impression, every now and then, of being only meant to 
add a sharper spice to the cruelty of her persecution. It is 
an anticipation of Justine, 

^ Diderot, in fact, is one of the greatest exponents of that 
Systeme de la Nature which, carrying materialism to its 
logical consequences and proclaiming the supreme right 
of the individual to happiness and pleasure in opposition 
to the despotism of morality and religion,** paves the way 



98 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

to the justification, in the name of Nature, of sexual per- 
versions.* His Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville, 
written in 1772, with the intention of showing ‘I’incon- 
v^nient d’attacher des id^es morales k certaines actions 
physiques qui n’en comportent pas’, digresses on the sub- 
ject of the customs of the blessed inhabitants of Tahiti, 
who are ignorant of the notions of fornication, incest, and 
adultery. Sade, too, culled information from certain 
travellers’ books in order to corroborate the most excep- 
tional erotic fantasies by means of lists of the customs of 
savage peoples. In the Rive de cC Alembert (written in 
1769) Diderot makes d’Alembert say: 

‘L’homme n’est qu’un efFet commun, le monstre qu’un eflFet rare; 
tous les deux egalement naturels, dgalement ndcessaires, dgalement 
dans I’ordre universel et general.’ 

In the same way Sade,^3 on the subject of Gilles de Rais 
and other monsters, writes: 

‘C’dtaient des monstres, m’objectent les sots. Oui, selon nos 
mceuTS et notre &9on de penser; mais relativement aux grandes 
vues de la nature sur nous, ils nMtaient que les instruments de ses 
desseins; c’^tait pour accomplir ses lots qu’elle les avait douds de 
ces caracteres fdroces et sanguinaires.’ 

3. Though it would be absurd to make any comparison, 
from an aesthetic standpoint, between a psychological 
novel such as Richardson’s Clarissa and a coarse piece of 
pornographic fiction such as the Therhse philosophe of 
Darles de Montigny (which appeared in 1748, the year 
after the publication of Clarissa), it is not unsuitable to 
speak of them together with regard to their social setting 
and customs. And we know that the two books might 
easily have been foxmd, in France at any rate, in the library 
of the same lady — except that the binding of one of them 
would have been blank. To get an idea of how this ‘livre 
galant’ was esteemed by its contemporaries, the opinion of 
the President de Brosses is sufficient 

‘J’ai lu “Th^rese philosophe” qui m’a donn6 de I’amusement 
de toute maniere. Cela est joli et assez bien fait, d’une plaisante 
singularity Je voudrais seulement qu’on en e(it retranchd: i®. les 
estampes; 2 ®. les ordures qui y sont presque toujours des hors 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 99 
d’oeuvre. II sufHrait que le livre f&t licencieux pour le but de I’au- 
teur qui est original et certainement la philosophic y domine.’ 

What, indeed, was the original philosophy of this book, 
which Sade, later, proclaimed as ‘I’unique qui ait agrdable- 
ment lid la luxure k rimpidtd’P^s JThat virtue leads to 
misery and ruin, vice to prosperity — the exact principle 
of which Sade himself became champion: 

‘ “Vous ne serez heureuse”, me disait-on, “qu’autant que vous 
pratiquerez les vertus chretiennes et morales; tout ce qui s’en dloi- 
gne est le vice; le vice nous attire le mdpris, et le mdpris engendre 
la honte et le remords qui en sont une suite.” Persuadde de la 
soliditd de ces lemons, j’ai cherche de bonne foi, jusqu’k Tige de 
vingt-cinq ans, k me conduire d’aprfes ces principes: nous allons 
voir comment j’ai rdussi.’ 

As long as she remains of this persuasion, things go 
badly with Therdse; but then, gradually, the ‘truth’ makes 
headway in her mind, that is, that the passions implanted 
tfcy nature in man are the work of God: 

‘Quel exc^ de folie de croire que Dieu nous a feit naltre pour 
que nous ne fessions que ce qui est contre Nature, que ce qui peut 
nous rendre malheureux dans ce monde; en exigeant que nous nous 
refusions tout ce qui satis&it les sens, les appdtits qu’il nous a 
donnds!’ 

Thus Thdrdse, anticipating Rousseau, becomes con- 
vinced that ‘tout est bien, tout est de Dieu’, and even that 

‘il est faux que I’Antiphysique soit contre nature, puisque c’est cette 
m&ne nature qui nous doime le penchant pour ce plaisir . . .’ 

And so, taking her stand upon these metaphysical 
truths, Th6rfese abandons herself to the most dissolute 
wantonness, to her great profit and satisfaction.’'® 

4. If virtue does not lead to happiness, at least appear- 
ances are saved by the final punishment of triumphant 
vice in Les Liaisons danger euses (1782), the novel which 
in a sense may be called the Clarissa of France — ^with more 
right than La Nouvelle Helotse. 

The Vicomte de Valmont is killed in a duel, like his 
English predecessor Lovelace, and the Marquise de Mer- 
teuil, whose Machiavellian mind^^ has ensnared both inno- 
cent and guilty in its meshes, suffers not only the moral 



too THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

humiliation of a scandal, but an actual physical disfigure- 
ment which makes her face an outward emblem of her 
soul : the smallpox, opportune ally of morality, takes upon 
itself to lay waste her beauty and, particulierement, to make 
her lose an eye. And worse is in store for her; only Laclos 
contents himself with merely giving a glimpse of her en 
route for Holland and refrains from a full description of the 
‘sinistres ^v^nements qui ont combl6 les malheurs ou 
achev^ la punition de Madame de Merteuil’. This would 
seem to be the conclusion: ‘Si on ^tait eclair^ sur son 
veritable bonheur, on ne le chercherait jamais hors des 
bornes prescrites par les Lois et la Religion.’^® 

From a religious point of view, the fate of oppressed 
virtue in Les Liaisons dangereuses may be considered as 
fortunate. The Pr^sidente de Tourvel, who not without 
reason had chosen as her breviaries the Pensees chretiennes 
and Clarissa, dies quite like Richardson’s heroine, from 
grief, and more or less surrounded with a halo of sanctity. 
Mile de Volanges, the ingenue perverted by the false Val- 
mont, leaves the world for the cloister, while her simple 
admirer Danceny adopts the usual popular geographical 
solution to his troubles. ‘J’irai enfin chercher a perdre, 
sous un ciel Stranger, I’idee de tant d’horreurs accumul^es, 
et dont le souvenir ne pourrait qu’attrister et fl^trir mon 
ame.’ He leaves for Malta, where he intends religiously to 
respect the vows which will separate him from the wicked 
world. 

The novelty of the Liaisons, however, does not consist 
in the moral aspect of the story, which is inspired by the 
story of Clarissa-, it lies, rather, in the analysis of vice, 
which in fact is triumphant throughout three-quarters of 
the book. This was certainly felt at the time. The follow- 
ing is the opinion of Alexandre de Tilly, who remarks in 
his Memoires that the side of virtue is represented in the 
book only by the character of the Presidente de Tourvel : 

‘Le reste est une conception coupable . . . et enfin, le role de cette 
innocente [Mile de Volanges], qui fait tout ce que feraient les plus 
sc^^rates, qui donne k sa mere tous les ridicules, aux jeunes lilies 
tous les mauvais exemples, est le dernier coup de pinceau de ce 
tableau compost avec un art trois fois coupable .... Ce sont des vices 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS loi 

monstrueux k la reflexioiij qui paraissent tout simples k la lecture 

En un mot, c’est Pouvrage d’une t6te de premier ordre, d’un coeur 
pourri et du genie du mal.’ 

A confirmation of how far the analysis of evil in the 
Liaisons had been made ab experto^ and of the importance 
of its influence on later writers, may be seen in Baude- 
laire^s brief notes 

‘A propos d"une phrase de Valmont (k retrouver): 

‘Le temps des Byrons venait. 

‘Car Byron etait prepare^ comme Michel- Ange. 

^ ‘Le grand homme n^est jamais a^rolithe. Chateaubriand devait 
bientot crier k un monde qui n’avait pas le droit de s’etonner: 

‘ “Je fus toujours vertueux sans plaisir; j’eusse 6t6 criminel sans 
remords.” 

‘Caractere sinistre et satanique. 

‘Le satanisme badinP 

On the phrase in Valmont^s Letter VI to Madame de 
Merteuil — ‘J^oserai la ravir au Dieu m6me qu’elle adore*, 
Baudelaire makes the comment: ‘Valmont Satan, rival de 
Dieu*, and quotes the passage: 

‘Quel delice d’etre tour-k-tour Pobjet et le vainqueur de ses re- 
mords! Loin de moi Pidee de d^truire les pr^jugfe qui Pafiiigent! 
ils ajouteront k mon bonheur et k ma gloire. Qu’elle croie k la 
vertu, mais qu’elle me la sacrifie; que ses fautes Pepouvantent sans 
pouvoir ParrSter; et qu’agit^e de mille terreurs, elle ne puisse les 
oublier, les vaincre que dans mes bras. Qu’alors j’y consens, elle 
me dise: “Je Padore^P^i 

^ And the passage in Letter XXI — ‘J*oubliais de vous 
dire que, pour mettre tout a profit, j*ai demande k ces 
bonnes gens de prier Dieu pour le succes de mes projets* — 
is followed by the comment Impudence et raffinement 
d'impi^^t^*. An example of a similar refinement is to be 
found in the passage quoted by Baudelaire from Letter CX : 

‘Cet enfant [Mile de Volanges] est rfellement seduisant ! Ce con- 
traste de la candeur naive avec le langage de Peffronterie, ne laisse 
pas de faire de Peffetj et, je ne sais pas pourquoi, il n’y a plus que 
les choses bizarres qui me plaisentP^z 

Baudelaire lays particular stress upon those qualities in 
Valmont which he finds in himself, in fact he remodels 
the figure of the French Lovelace to the shape which it 



loa THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

presents from the Baudelairean point of view; he quotes 
a phrase of Mme de Merteuil (whom he calls ‘une five 
satanique’) upon which a note more ample than his brief 
reference to ‘George Sand et autres’ would have been of 
great interest: ‘Ma t$te seule fermentait; je ne ddsirais pas 
de jouir, je voulais savoir.’ 

Projected against a Baudelairean background, this 
phrase immediately assumes a depth of meaning which it 
certainly does not possess in its own context. For it was pre- 
cisely in this ‘savoir’ which Baudelaire emphasizes that his 
(Own personal tragedy lay: ferment of the brain, exacerhatio 
< cerebri, this was Baudelaire’s form of sensuality; the desire 
*for the forbidden fruit because forbidden, in order to 
‘know’ — ^in which theologians see the supreme sin against 
the Holy Ghost. 

On the other hand, the general observation which 
Baudelaire makes upon the French ‘litt^rature galante’ of 
the eighteenth century, the spirit of which he contrasts 
with Aat of a certain type of literature of his own time, 
gives the clue to the piety of Baudelaire which is so much 
emphasized nowadays; 

‘En le satanisme a gagnd Satan s’est fait ing^nu. Le 

mal se connaissant ^tait moins affreux et plus prfes de la gudrison 
que le mal s’ignorant. G. Sand inftrieure k de Sade.’ 

5 . The Marquis de Sade, in fact — ^and here was his 
originality — ^reversed the convenient ethical theory of 
Therbse fhilosophe, which was actually the same as that of 
Jean-Jacques. ‘Everything is good, everting is the 
Vqrk of God’ becomes in him ‘Everj^ing is evil, every- 
thing is the work of Satan’. It is therefore necessary to 
practise vice because it conforms to the laws of nature 
(Rousseau’s ‘les plus pures lois de la nature’!) which in- 
sists upon destruction.23 Evil is the axis of the universe: 

‘Je me dis: il existe un Dieu, une main a cr66 ce que je vois, 
mais pour le mal; elle ne se plait que dans le mal; le mal est son 
essence; tout celui qu’elle nous fait commettre est indispensable li 
ses plans. . . . Ce que je caract^rise mal est vraisemblablement un trks 
grand bien relativement k I’gtre qui m’a mis au monde. . . . Le mal 
est n^ces^ire ^ I’organisation vicieuse de ce triste univers. Dieu est 
trfe vindicatif, m&rhant, injuste. Les suites du mal sont ^ternelles; 



the: shadow of the divine marquis 103 

c’est dans le mal qu’il a cree le monde, c’est par le mal qu’il le 
soutient; c’est pour le mal qu*il le perpetue; c’est impregnee de 
mal que la creature doit exister; c’est dans le sein du mal qu’elle 
retourne apres son existence. ... La vertu etant mode oppose au 
systeme du monde, tous ceux qui I’auront admise sont surs d’en- 
durer d’ejfFroyables supplices par la peine qu’ils auront a rentrer 
dans le sein du mal, auteur et regenerateur de tout ce que nous 

voyons Je vois le mal ^ternel et universel dans le monde. Le mal 

est un ^tre moral non cre^; eternel, non perissable; il existait avant 
le monde, il constituait I’^tre monstrueux qui put cr^er un monde 
aussi bizarre. L’auteur de Tunivers est le plus mechant, le plus 
feroce, le plus epouvantable de tous les 6tres. 11 existera done aprfe 
les cr&tures qui peuplent ce monde; et c’est dans lui qu’elles rentre- 
ront toutes, pour reorder d’autres fetres plus m&hants encore — ’^4 
‘La nature . . . marche d’un pas rapide k son but, en prouvant 
chaque jour k ceux qui I’etudient qu’elle ne cree que pour detruire 
et que la destruction, la premiere de toutes ses lois, puisqu’elle ne 
parviendrait k aucune cr&tion sans elle, lui plait bien plus que la 
propagation, qu’une secte de philosophes grecs appelaient avec 
beaucoup de raison, le r&ultat des meurtres.’^^ 

‘Qui doute . . , que le meurtre ne soit une des lois les plus pr^- 
cieuses de la nature? Quel est son but quand elle cr6e? n’est-ce 
pas de voir bient&t detruire son ouvrage? Si la destruction est une 
de ses lois, celui qui detruit lui obeit donc!’^^ 

‘Il n’y a aucun 6tre dans le monde . . . qui par une action quelque 
etendue qu’elle soit, quelque irr6guliere qu’elle paraisse, puisse em- 
pi^ter sur les plans de la nature, puisse troubler I’ordre de I’univers. 
Les operations de ce sc^Mrat sont I’ouvrage de la nature comme la 
chaine des evenemehts qu’il croit deranger. . . . C’est . . . un veritable 
blaspheme que d’oser dire qu’une chetive creature comme nous 
puisse, en quoi que ce soit, troubler I’ordre du monde ou usurper 
I’office de la nature. . . . Peut-elle s’offenser de voir I’homme faire k 
son semblable ce qu’elle lui fait elle-meme tous les jours ? , . . Il est 

demontre qu’elle ne peut se reproduire que par des destructions 

Il faut que I’^quilibre se conserve; il ne peut I’^tre que par le crime.’^? 

‘Quand vous avez vu que tout etait vicieux et criminel sur la 
terre, leur dira I’Etre supreme en mechancete, pourquoi vous ^tes- 
vous egar& dans les sentiers de la vertu ?. . . Et quel est done I’acte 
de ma conduite oh vous m’ayez vu bienfaisant? Est-ce en vous 
envoyant des pestes, des guerres civiles, des maladies, des tremble- 
ments de terre, des orages ? est-ce en secouant perpetuellement sur 
VOS tStes tous les serpents de la discorde, que je vous persuadai que 
le bien 6tait mon essence? Imbddle! que ne m’imitais-tu pas?’^* 



104 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

*La vertu ne conduit qu’^ Tinaction la plus stupide et la plus 
monotone, le vice k tout ce que Fhomme peut esp^rer de plus d61i- 
cieux sur la terre.^^ Douter que la plus grande somme de bonheur 
possible que doive trouver Phomme sur la terre ne soit irr^vocable- 
ment dans le crime, certes, c’est douter que Tastre du jour soit le 
premier mobile de la vegetation. Oui, mes amis, ainsi que cet astre 
sublime est le regenerateur de Punivers, de m^me le crime est le 
centre de tous les feux moraux qui nous embrasent.’3o 

Here, therefore, Clarissa is deprived of the support of 
her faith and her certainty of a future reward. 

‘C’est, nous ne le deguisons plus, pour appuyer ces systemes, que 
nous allons donner au public Phistoire de la vertueuse Justine, II 
est essentiel que les sots cessent d’encenser cette ridicule idole de 
la vertu, qui ne les a jusqu’ici pay& que d’ingratitude, et que les 
gens d’esprit, communement livr& par principe aux ecarts delicieux 
du vice et de la debauche, se rassurent en voyant les exemples 
frappants de bonheur et de prosp^rite qui les accompagnent pres- 
qu’inevitablement dans la route debord^e qu’ils choisissent. II est 
affreux sans doute d’avoir k peindre, d’une part, les malheurs ef- 
frayants dont le ciel accable la femme douce et sensible qui respectc 
le mieux la vertu j d’une autre, Paffluence des prosp^ritfe sur 
ceux qui tourmentent ou qui mortifient cette m^me femmej mais 
Phomme-de-lettres, assez philosophe pour dire le vrai, surmonte 
ces d&agrements, et cruel par n^cessit^, il arrache impitoyablement 
d’une main les superstitieuses parures dont la sottise embellit la 
vertu, et montre efFront^ment de Pautre k Phomme ignorant que 
Pon trompait, le vice au milieu des charmes et des puissances qui 
Pentourent et le suivent sans cesse, C^est en raison de ces motifs 
que.,.nous allons ... peindre le crime comme il est, c’est-a-dire 
toujours triomphant et sublime, toujours content et fortune, et la 
vertu comme on la voit egalement, toujours maussade et toujours 
triste, toujours pedante et toujours malheureuse.’3i 

It is not necessary to mention here the picaresque ad- 
ventures related in Justine^ ou les malheurs de la vertu and 
its sequel Juliette^ ou les prosperites du vice.^^ The Marquis t 
de Sade empties his world of all psychological content exv 
cept the pleasures of destruction and transgression, and 
moves in an opaque atmosphere of mere matter, in which 
his characters are degraded to the status of instruments for 
provoking the so-called divine ecstasy of destruction.*^ 

‘La multitude la plus ^tendue des l&ions sur autrui, dont il ne doit 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 105 
physiquement rien ressentir, ne peut pas se mettre en compensation 
avec la plus legere des jouissances achetdes par cet assemblage inoul 
de forfaits. . . . Quel est I’homme raisonnable qui ne preftrera pas ce 
qui le ddlecte k ce qui lui est etrangerp’33 

However ‘obscures et tdn^breuses’ may be the means pur- 
sued to heighten this ecstasy, the butcheries of Sade are 
hardly different from experiments in a chemical laboratory : 

‘Et voilS. done ce que e’est que le meurtre: un peu de matiere 
ddsorganisde, quelques changements dans les combinaisons, quelques 
moldcules rompues et replongdes dans le creuset de la nature qui 
les rendra dans quelques jours sous une autre forme k la terrej et 
oh done m le mal k cela?’34 

Well may one of his libertines declare: 

‘Oh! quelle action voluptueuse que celle de la destruction. .. je 
n’en connais pas qui chatouille plus ddlicieusement; il n’est pas 
d’extase semblable h celle que I’on goute en se livrant h cette divine 
infamie. . . .’’s ■ 

The cycle of possible chemical disaggregations which con- 
stitute his tortures is soon exhausted, because, as Proust 
remarks,36 nothing is more limited than pleasure and vice, 
■^and — ^to make a play upon words — it may be said that the 
vicious man moves always in the same vicious circle. The 
sense of the infinite, banished from human relationships 
by the suppression of any spiritual meaning, takes refuge 
in a sort of cosmic satanism : 

‘C’est elle [la nature] que je voudrais pouvoir outrager. Je vou- 
drais ddranger ses plans, contrecarrer sa marche, arrfeter le cours des 
astres, bouleverser les globes qui flottent dans I’espace, detruire ce 
qui la sert, proteger ce qui lui nuit, ddifier ce qui I’irrite, I’insulter 
en un mot dans ses ceuvres.’3r 

In this there is a reductio ad absurdum of Sade’s ‘philo- 
sophy’, since, if it is admitted that Nature’s aim is destruc- 
tion and that no act of destruction can irritate or insult her 
(even Sade recognizes that ‘I’impossibilitd d’outrager la 
nature est selon moi le plus grand supplice de rhomme’),^* 
the supreme insult which can be laid upon her, and from 
which the sadist should legitimately derive the greatest 
pleasure of transgression, would be precisely — ^the practice 
j(of virtue ! And the supreme joy of sadism should in fact be 



io6 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the joy of remorse and expiation: from Gilles de Rais to 

Dostoievsky the parabola of vice is always identical. 

While the persecutions of Clarissa and of Madame de 
Tourvel follow a psychological course, those of Justine, 
developing on a physical plane, offer no more spiritual 
interest than a series of chemical experiments. Everything 
is seen externally;* so that a strange abuse is made of the 
word ‘soul’ in the introduction to Justine : 

‘ Quant aux tableaux cyniques, nous croyons, avec I’auteur, que 
routes les situations possibles de Time 6tant k la disposition du ro- 
mander, il n’en est aucune dont il n’ait la permission de faire usage.’ 

Even the death of Justine is a meteorological event. In 
order to show that Nature is irritated against her virtue, 
Sade has her struck by a thunderbolt, after Noirceuil has 
said ‘Mes amis, un orage terrible se forme; livrons cette 
creature ^ la foudre; je me convertis si elle la respecte’.so 

It was the Romantics, profiting by the theories of the 
Divine Marquis, and especially Baudelaire, who gave a 
-psychological turn to the refinements of perversity; the 
length to which this method could go was expressed in 
one of the latest of the Decadents, Remy de Gourmont.+o 

In the inversion of values which is at the basis of sadism, 
vice represents the positive, active element, virtue the 
neeative and passive. Virtue exists only as a restraint to be 
■broken. 

‘Les freins qu’elle lui fait rompre, ou les vertus qu’elle lui fait 
m^priser, deviennent comme autant d’^isodes voluptueux.’« 

‘Il ne faut pas s’imaginer que ce suit la beauts d’une femme qui 
irrite le mieux I’esprit d’un libertin; c’est bien plutbt I’espfece de 
crime qu’ont attache ^ sa possession les lois civiles ou religieuses; 
la preuve en est que plus cette possession est criminelle, et plus nous 
en sommes irrit&.’+* 

So, naturally, the existence of virtue comes to be a con- 
dition of sadistic pleasure, just as in orthodox morality fit is 
necessary to have some obstacle to overcome and some evil 
to conquer. 

“Ta douce vertu (Justine) nous est essentielle; ce n’est que du 
melange de cette quality charmante et des vices que nous lui op- 
poserons que doit naltre pour nous la plus sensueOe volupt4’+* 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 107 

Were it not for Lovelace and Valmont, Clarissa and 
Madame de Tourvel would not be adorned with the 
haloes of saints; without a Justine to oppress and tortime, 
no sadistic amusement would be possible. The success of 
the persecuted beauty as a subject in the novel of the nine- 
teenth century owes more to the motives which dictated' 
the work of the Divine Marquis than to those which 
caused Richardson to write Clarissa. 

Moreover, if the sadist refuses to believe in traditional 
religion he deprives himself of an inexhaustible source of 
pleasure: the pleasure of profanation and blasphemy. 
Hence the lamentable contradiction in an outburst like this 

‘0 toi qui, dit-on, a crdd tout ce qui existe dans le monde; toi 
dont je n’ai pas la moindre idee; toi que je ne connais que sur pa- 
role. . . Stre bizarre et fentastique que Ton appelle Dieu; je declare 
formeUement, authentiquement, publiquement, que je n’ai pas dam 
toi la plus l^ere croyance, et cela pour I’excellente raison que je 
ne trouve rien, ni dam mon ccEur, ni dam mon esprit qui puisse 
me persuader une existence absurde dont rien au monde n’atteste 
la soliditA’ 

And then, what pleasure can he get from trampling on 
crucifixes, from the ‘faire des horreurs avec des hosties’, 
what savour from the Black Mass, unless he is convinced 
of the truth of transubstantiation ? Sade’s retort is that Ae 
pleasure is derived from thinking of the horror which 
these acts inspire in believers, from the moral torture, in 
fact, inflicted in imagination upon the believer: 

‘Les trois quarts de I’Europe attachent des id&s tres religieuses 
k cette hostie . . . & ce crucifix, et voili d’ob vient que j’aime & les 
profiiner; je fronde I’opinion publique, cela m’amuse; je foule atix 
pieds les prdjugfe de mon enfance, je les an6antis; cela m’dchauflFe 
la tgte.’*s 

6. Restif de la Bretonne sought to react against Sade’s 
theories in his Anti-Justine, ou les delices de F amour (i 798). 
Restif had already given, ten years before, in Les Nuits de 
Paris, a melodramatically exaggerated version of the part 
which ‘I’afFaire Keller’ had played in Sade’s actual life.'^^ 
And in Monsieur Nicolas, iF epoque, he threw out this hint, 
in speaking of licentious books : 

‘Mais je connais un livre encore plus dangereux que ceux que 



io8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

j’ai nomm&: c’est Justine; il poite k la cruaut^: Danton le lisait 

pour s’exciter/ 

In the same book he spoke with horror of the sadistic 
pastimes of the aristocracy* But he himself handed on cer- 
tain suggestions which were anything but edifying to 
later writers, suggestions which were more insidious in 
their sentimental falsetto than the ghastly shrieks of Sade* 
What distinction, for example, can be made between the 
sentiment shown in the following passage and the sadistic 
pleasure in humiliation ? 

^Je trouve au dernier degr^ du vice un certain repos, une certaine 
satisfaction . . . semblable sans doute k celle des Diables, s’il y en 
avait . . . C’est comme lorsque avec des habits de pauvre je descends 
au plus bas etage des conditions humaines. J’ouvre devant moi une 
carrifere immense, je trouve des plaisirs nouveaux, que je ne con- 
naissais pas, au sein du cynisme et de la crapule; avec des habits 
semblables k ceux des bourgeois, leurs filles et leurs femmes ne me 
paraissent rien; en habit de mendiant, elles sont au-dessus de moi, 
elles me font illusion et se confondent k mes yeux avec les princesses; 
je les envie, je voudrais les humlier\ moi, qui suis poli, tendre m6me 
pour leur sexe, sous mes mauvais habits je change d’indination; si 
je vois une jolie femme le soir, je Finsulte et I’entretiens de propos 
grossiers, D’oti vient cela?’+7 

Restif goes into ecstasies over the good heart of the 
young prostitute Zdphire (in Monsieur Nicolas^ efoque\ 
who is an innocent sinner in the manner of Laclos' Mile 
de Volanges: 

‘Cette enfant m’est attachee, malgr^*son etat! . . . Son 6tat ne lui 
a pas 6t^ r^me aimante qu’elle a re 9 ue de la nature! , . . Mon ami 
lecteur! cette fille perdue, cette prostitute m’ennoblit assez k mes 
propres yeux pour que je te redonne le nom d^ami\ tu I’adoreras 
comme moi; tu la pleureras comme moi; et,..bient6t... tufr^miras, 
comme j’ai fremi 1 . . , 

‘Loiseau 6tait diiste et trh pieux: II se mit a genoux et remercia 

r£tre supreme: “Pere de tout ce qui estP^ s’teria-t-iI,“sois bdni 

Tu as kiss^ pour elle de la vertu jusque dans la prostitution: ainsi, 
jadis les prfetresses de Vteus, qui t’honoraient sous le nom de cette 
dtesse de k beaute, n’etaient pas moins vertueuses, en faisant ce 
qui est aujourd’hui le comble de k turpitude’’/ 

This theme of the prostitute regenerated by love, ex- 
pounded by Prdvost, following De Foe's example, inManon 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 109 

Lescaut, by Rousseau in the Confessions (Zulietta),* by 
Goethe in the ballad T>er Gott und die Bajadere, by Schiller 
in Kabale und Liebe (Lady Milford, the fevourite), was 
destined, with the Romantics, to become one of the chief 
^points of their cult of tainted beauty. How many times 
shall we find it again, from Musset in Rolla (‘N’^tait-ce 
pas sa soeur, cette prostitute?’) to the Italian ‘poeta 
crepuscolare’, Guido Gozzano— this type of ‘purity in 
prostitution’ — the Fleur-de-Marie of Sue, D’Annunzio’s 
MOa di Codro!48 

Nicolas, Ztphire’s lover, also commits incest, because 
Ztphire — ^who, according to the habit of these unfortunate 
young women, dies in the flower of her youth — is his own 
daughter by Nannette. (Sue’s Fleur-de-Marie obviously 
derives straight from here.)* And before this, Prtvost’s 
Cleveland had fallen in love with Ctcile, whom he later 
discovered to be his own daughter. 

7. Incest itself also, ennobled already by Provost in 
Cleveland (1731) thanks to the principle of the ‘divine 
“fight’ of passion, became a theme dear to the Romantics, 
and in a special way to Chateaubriand, who invested in- 
jcestuous love between brother and sister with poetic 
charm and sentimental dignity, elaborating certain events 
of his own life — though to what extent cannot be verified.^® 
In Atala he makes the lovers’ passion culminate in the dis- 
covery of bonds of spiritual brotherhood, of ‘amiti6 fra- 
ternelle’, ‘cette amiti^ fratemelle qui venait nous •vdsiter et 
joindre son amour & notre amour’. 

Chateaubriand is also full of longing for the ‘6tat de 
nature’ idolized by the Encyclop^distes, in which he 
imagined it possible to realize his sensual ideal, notwith- 
standing certain theoretical remarks in the first preface of 
Atala.^^ He speaks with an exile’s regret of the ‘manages 
des premiers-n& des hommes, ces unions ineffables, 
alors que la soeur ^tait I’^pouse du frere, que I’amour et 
I’amitie fratemelle se confondaient dans le m€me coeur et 
que la puret^ de I’une augmentait les delices de I’autre ’ 
(Atala). It is an absurd regret, because the relationship of 
^vers between brother and sister only fascinated him 
linasmuch as he felt it through the consciousness of sin; and 



no THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

since the possibility of the latter is lacking in the primitive 
natmal state, that particular relationship could have no 
different savour from a relationship between strangers. 

Not content with making Atala a quasi-sister, he shows 
her also as a virgin who has made vows of chastity, so that 
to the thrill of incest is added that of sacrilege. Moreover, 
this love kills Atala, ‘la Vierge des derniferes amours’; 
sexual pleasure is crowned with death.®^ There is the 
same mingling of incest and sacrilege in Rene^ when 
Ren6, as sponsor of Amdie’s monastic vows, hears from 
her lips the confession of her ‘criminelle passion’ and dis- 
turbs the ceremony by embracing her upon the bier of her 
symbolic death: ‘Chaste spouse de J6sus-Christ, re9ois 
mes derniers embrassements k travers les glaces du tr^pas 
et les profondeurs de I’^ternit^ qui te apparent d^jli de ton 
fr^re.’ All the voluptuousness of incest, sacrilege, and 
death is condensed into this short phrase. 

An idyllic background in the manner of Bernardin de 
Saint-Pierre, added to the charm of primitive Christianity, 
invests the turbid and sensual subject-matter of Chateau- 
briand with a halo of innocence. To him, too, may be 
applied Baudelaire’s already quoted remark (‘Le satanisme 
a gagn^, Satan s’est fait ing^nu’, &c.), and even the latter 
part of it (^Chateaubriand inf<£rieur k de Sade’) if one takes 
into account, for instance, certain phrases of Rent’s letter 
to C^luta; 

‘Le sein nu et d6chir6, les cheveux trempfe de la vapeur de la 
nuit, je croyais voir une femme qui se jetait dans mes bras; elle 
me disait: “Viens dchanger des feux avec moi, et perdre la vie! 
melons des volupt& k la mort! que la voiite du ciel nous cache en 
tombant sur nous. . . .” Je vous ai tenue sur ma poitrine au milieu 
du d&ert, dans les vents de I’orage, lorsque aprfe vous avoir portfe 
de I’autre cotd d’un torrent, j’aurais voulu vous poignarder pour 
fixer le bonheur dans votre sein et pour me punir de vous avoir 
donn^ ce bonheur.’s* 

8. But to return to the theme of the persecuted woman. 
At a distance of only a few years — ^we are considering these 
works simply as psychological manifestations, and quite 
apart from any question of literary merit — ^there came into 
being Gretchen in Germany,* Justine in France, in Eng- 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS ni 
land Antonia and Agnes, in the celebrated novel by M. G. 
Lewis, The Monk (1796). Not that all these victim- 
characters were conceived in the same spirit; we should not 
wish even in jest to compare a real aristocrat such as the 
Herr Geheimrat Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with a 
ci-devant of sinister reputation such as Louis-Donatien 
Aldonze, Marquis de Sade. Yet, to consider only certain 
outward vicissitudes, all these unhappy daughters of the 
ill-starred Clarissa suffered the same kind of outrages and 
terrors, languished in the depths of horrible prisons, and 
died or risked a violent death .53 

Lewis, bearing in mind, perhaps, the ‘terrible’ German 
novel I>as Petermdnnchen, by Christian Heinrich Spiess 
(1791), in which the hero-villain is responsible for the 
death of six women, is not content with only one victim. 
There is not only Antonia, who is seduced by the per- 
verted monk Ambrosio (who then turns out to be her 
brother), who awakes, like Shakespeare’s Juliet, in a fear- 
ful crypt among decayed corpses, who is made the object 
of a loathsome love among these emblems of death, and is 
finally stabbed.s+ There is also, chained in an in-face of the 
same convent dungeons, another victim, a young girl who 
has been compelled to become a nun, 5 s Agnes, who, being 
with child, has been condemned to a slow and hideous 
death together with her offspring. Lewis delights in 
describing the most disgusting graveyard horrors: 

‘Sometimes’, says Agnes, ‘I felt the bloated toad, hideous and 
pampered with the poisonous vapours of the dungeon, drawing his 
loathsome length along my bosom. Sometimes the quick cold lizard 
roused me, leaving his slimy track upon my face, and entangling 
itself in the tresses of my wild and matted hair. Often have I at 
waking found my fingers ringed with the long worms which bred 
in the corrupted flesh of my infant . . . 

These are details which the ‘frdndtique’ Romanticism 
of a later date remembered and developed insistently.s^ 
Of the principal plot of The Monk we shall have more to 
say later. Let it suffice here to mention that Hoffmai\t^ 
took his inspiration from this romance for Tiie Elixire des 
Teufeb, in which Medardus corresponds to Ambrosio, 
Euphemia to Matilda, and to Antonia Aurelia, the pure 



1 13 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

young girl beloved by Medardus and slain by the mysteri- 
ous spectre in which resides the other part of Medardus’s 
double personality; that Grillparzer took from it the plot 
■of Die Ahnjrau'^'^ that Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, derived 
/from The Monk the idea of the tragic love of the Knight 
Templar Bois-Guilbert for the beautiful Jewess Bebecca; 
^that Victor Hugo drew upon Lewis’s romance (and upon 
Scott’s) for the character of the persecuted Esmeral^and 
for that of the infamous priest Claude Frollo, and George 
Sand for those of L 61 ia and the priest Magnus (in the first 
version Magnus, unable to overcome the resistance of the 
young woman, strangles her).®® 

9. Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, who shares with Lewis and 
Maturin the honour of having invented that most success- 
ful branch of literature, the ‘tale of terror’,* makes the 
persecuted woman a regular type in her horrifying stories. 
Now it is the Marchesa di Mazzini, in the Sicilian Romance 
(1790), imprisoned by a cruel husband in a horrible dun- 
geon now it is Emily de Saint-Aubert, a lovely and 
virtuous orphan girl, shut up by the cruel Montoni in the 
^sinister castle of Udolpho (^he Mysteries ofUdolpho^ji 794); 
/-now it is Adeline, in The Romance of the Forestj{i'j()i\ 
persecuted and tormented in another gloomy castle; now 
again the wretched Ellena, in the best of all Mrs. Rad- 
diflFe’s novels, The Italiany or the Confessional of the Black 
Penitents (1791). 

Victim of the machinations of the shameful Schedoni, 
carried oflF by villains and transported in a coach to a 
lonely convent in the mountains or the Abruzzi, threatened 
with imprisonment by the Abbess, rescued by Vivaldi but 
recaptured just as she is about to be married to him, 
Ellena is finally imprisoned in a sinister cottage on a 
deserted point of the Adriatic coast, in order to be mur- 
dered by the villain Spalatro;®® there Schedoni comes to 
her, and, as the assassin refuses to carry out his work, 
approaches the girl’s bedside at night (in a scene similar 
to the one in The Monk in which Ambrosio surprises the 
sleeping Antonia) and is on the point of killing her himself 
when he discovers on her breast a medal which shows her 
to be his own daughter. 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 113 

For — ^let it be stated once and for all — ^the old recogni- 
tion-scene of the Greek romances®* became one of the 
mainstays of the ‘tales of terror’, as it was to be of Roman- 
ticism in general. Parents who rediscover their children 
^in ^e most dramatic circumstances — ^this was the main- 
spring of the plays and novels of about 1830. Buridan 
who finds that Gaultier and Philippe are his own sons by 
Marguerite de Bourgogne — ^they are Marguerite’s sons 
and also her lovers (Duma§^ La Tour de Nesle)\ Gennaro, 
the incest-born son of Lucrezia Borgia, who believes him- 
self the object of a hateful love on the part of the monstrous 
woman whom, later, he discovers to be his mother and 
whom he kills (yictor Hugo’s Lucrhce Borgia)’, Rodolphe, 
who without knowing it rescues his own daughter, La 
Goualeuse (in the My stores de Paris) : these are some of the 
best-known examples of a formula which also found 
favour in the eyes of the Romantics on account of the 
favour of incest which could be extracted from it. In Mrs. 
Radcliffe’s The Italian, even though the recognition-scene 
between Schedoni and Ellena is afterwards found to be 
due to an error, there is still a genuine recognition in the 
discovery of the nun Olivia that Ellena, whom she has 
helped to escape from the gloomy convent of San Stefano, 
is really her long-lost daughter. 

I o. Like Mrs. Radcliffe, other authoresses also adopted 
the persecuted woman as a character; but there may be 
nothing more in this than another of the many manifesta- 
tions of feminine imitativeness. As the literary tradition 
has been the monopoly of man, at any rate up till the pre- 
sent, it is natural that women writers should slavishly 
adopt in their works the masculine point of view. 

In Miss Wilkinson’s The Priory of St. Clair (1811) 
Julietta is shut up in a convent a^nst her will, is drugged 
and conveyed as a corpse to the sinister Gothic castle of the 
Coimt of Valv^ ; she comes to life only to be slain before 
the high altar, and avenges herself after her death by 
haunting the Count regularly every night. 

In Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein (1817) we find an inno- 
cent woman accused of murdering a child, thanks to 
the infernal guile of a sort of satanic Homunculus 



ri4 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

manufactured by Frankenstein; and the innocent woman, 
imprisoned, tried and executed, is called — by an odd coin- 
cidence — ^Justine, like Sade’s imhappy virtuous heroine. 
In Valperga, or the Life and Adventures of Castruccio^ Prince 
of Luccuy also by Mrs. Shelley (1823), Beatrice ends her 
days in the prisons of the Inquisition (Castruccio, beloved 
by her, is the usual type of Satanic hero, ‘a majestic figure 
and a countenance beautiful but sad, and tarnished by the 
expression of pride that animated it’). 

II. All Mrs. Shelley did was to provide a passive re- 
flection of some of the wild fantasies which, as it were, 
hung in the air about her. But there was a different 
significance in her husband’s choice of the story of 
Beatrice Cenci as the subject of the most powerful of his 
dramas, in which Swinburne, as expert a judge as any one, 
traced the imprint of the Divine Marquis. Indeed the 
elder Cenci speaks very like one of Sade’s villains: 

I do not feel as if I were a man. 

But like a fiend appointed to chastise 
The offences of some unremembered world. 

My blood is running up and down my veins; 

A fearful pleasure makes it prick and tingle; 

I feel a giddy sickness of strange awe; 

My heart is beating with an expectation 
Of horrid joy.** 

‘Nous sommes des dieux’, declared Sade’s characters. 
The perverse Saint-Fond in Juliette spoke just like Cenci, 
when he boasted that there was no ecstasy like that ‘que 
Ton gofite en se livrant ^ cette divine infamie’. Nor was 
the behaviour of Sade’s ‘heroes ’®3 towards their relations 
so very different from the threats of Cenci against his 
daughter, which he obviously uttered with the intention of 
feeling ‘ddlicieusement chatouilld’ by breaking laws which 
men consider sacred. Cenci wishes to poison and corrupt 
his daughter’s soul:®'* 

I will drag her, step by step. 

Through infamies unheard of among men; 

She ^lall stand shelterless in the broad noon 
Of public scorn, for acts blazoned abroad, 

One among which shall be . . . What ? Canst thou guess ? 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 115 

She shall become (for what she most abhors 

Shall have a fascination to entrap 

Her loathing will) to her own conscious self 

All she appears to others; and when dead. 

As she shall die unshrived and unforgiven, 

A rebel to her father and her God, 

Her corpse shall be abandoned to the hounds; 

Her name shall be the terror of the earth; 

Her spirit shall approach the throne of God 
Plague-spotted with my curses. I will make 
Body and soul a monstrous lump of ruin. 

Then he goes on, with voluptuous delight, to this 
sacrilegious prayer, which echoes, but with very different 
significance, the maledictions of King Lear (Act ii, sc.iv, 
lines 165 et seq., 224 et seq.): 

. . . God, 

Hear me! If this most specious mass of flesh. 

Which Thou hast made my daughter; this my blood, 

This particle of my divided being; 

Or rather, this my bane and my disease. 

Whose sight infects and poisons me; this devil 
Which sprung from me as from a hell, was meant. 

To aught good use; if her bright loveliness 
Was kindled to illumine this ^rk world; 

If nursed by Thy selectest dew of love 
Such virtues blossom in her as should make 
The peace of life, I pray Thee for my sake, 

As Thou the common God and Father art 
Of her, and me, and all; reverse that doom! 

Earth, in the name of God, let her food be 
Poison, until she be encrusted round 
With leprous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head 
The blistering drops of the Maremma’s dew. 

Till she be speckled like a toad; parch up 
Those love-enkindled lips, warp those fine limbs 
To loathed lameness! All-beholding sun, 

Strike in thine envy those life-darting eyes 
With thine own blinding beams! 

The tortures described by Beatrice are of the kind 
which Sade’s Justine suffered 

... Do you know 

I thought I was that wretched Beatrice 



ii6 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Men speak of, whom her father sometimes hales 
From hall to hall by the entangled hair; 

At others, pens up naked in damp cells 
Where scaly reptiles crawl, and starves her there, 

Till she will eat strange flesh. 

Remember the description of the Medusa quoted in 
Chapter I, and the joy which Shelley took in the spectacle 
of that tormented beauty. Remember also the minute 
description of the passing from beauty and life to decay 
and death in The Sensitive Plants and the insistence with 
which Shelley uses in his poems such words as ‘ghost’, 
‘charnel’, ‘tomb’, ‘dungeon’, ‘torture’, ‘agony’, &c. Horror, 
pity, and hatred against tyrants are the springs of inspira- 
tion in The Cewri; but the attraction which the poet felt for 
the subject seems to arise from another source, a troubled 
one. ‘Incest’, he wrote, with regard to Calderdn’s Cabellos 
de AbsaUn^^^ ‘is, like many other incorrect things, a very 
poetical circumstance.’ In the first version of The Revolt of 
filam (JLaon and Cythnd) the lovers Laon and Cythna were 
brother and sister. Cythna, the symbol of devotion, is 
raped by Othman, the symbol of tyranny, and the lovers 
suffer tortures and are finally bound to the same stake, like 
Tasso’s Olindo and Sofixjnia, and die exchanging ‘looks 
of insatiate love’ — ^symbol of the martyrdom of free- 
thinkers . The symbolic matter does not prevent the poet 
from lingering upon vivid descriptions of the victims’ 
painful experiences. In Rosalind and Helen Rosalind 
tells her story, over which broods the shadow of incest, 
in a highly romantic spot where once a brother and 
sister had loved and been put to death — ^she, killed by 
the multitude, he, condemned by the priests to be burnt 
‘alive .67 

1 2. But the majority of English writers of this period 
do not seem to have realized the nature of their predilec- 
tion for cruel &nd terrifying spectacles. Maturin, for ex- 
ample, who m/Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) produced the 
masterpiece of the ‘tales of terror’ school, and who pro- 
fessed to ‘depict life in its extremities, and to represent 
those struggles of passion when the soul trembles on the 
verge of the unlawful and the unhallowed’, puts into the 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 117 
mouth of one of his characters this analysis of the feelings 
of ‘amateurs in suffering’ 

‘It is actually possible to become amateurs in suffering. I have 
heard of men who have travelled into countries where horrible 
executions were to be daily witnessed, for the sake of that excite- 
ment which the sight of suffering never foils to ^ve, from the 
spectacle of a tragedy, or an auto-da-fi^ down to the writhings of 
the meanest reptile on whom you can inflict torture, and feel that 
torture is the result of your own power. It is a species of feeling 
of which we never can divest ourselves , — & triumph over those 
whose suflFerings have placed them below us, and no wonder, — 
suffering is always an indication of weakness, — ^we glory in our 
impenetrability. ... You will call this cruelty, I call it curiosity, — 
that curiosity that brings thousands to witness a tragedy, and makes 
the most delicate female feast on groans and agonies.’*® 

As is to be expected, there appears also in Melmoth the 
figure of the maiden born beneath an unlucky star; but 
she is a younger sister of Goethe’s Margaret rather than a 
direct descendant of Clarissa, just as in Melmoth also the 
Byronic type ends by becoming confused with the 
Mephistopheles of the German master. Balzac, Baude- 
laire, and Rossetti, among others, were admirers of 
Maturin, which should suffice to justify a longer analysis 
of the novel than economy of space will permit. We shall 
limit ourselves to the points which are most relevant to the 
present discussion. 

Melmoth has made a bargain with Satan, by which, in 
exchange for his soul, his life is to be prolonged; but he 
can still escape damnation if he succeeds in finding some 
one to share his fate. He wanders thus for more than a 
hundred years from country to country, spreading terror 
with his eyes, which no one would wish ever to have seen, 
for, once seen, it was impossible to forget them. Wherever 
there is a man reduced to desperation, there appears Mel- 
moth to haunt him, in the hope of persuading him to 
entrust him with his fate: he explores the asylum, the 
prison, the frightful dungeons of the Inquisition, the 
houses of the wretched. Like a tiger in ambush, he 
peers in search of evil and sin; he has something of 
Goethe’s Mephistopheles, something of the Byronic hero. 



ii8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

something of the Wandering Jew, something of the 

vampire : 

‘Melmoth, as he spoke, flung himself on a bed of hpcinths and 
tulips. . . . “Oh, you will destroy my flowers,” cried she. . . . “It 
is my vocation — I pray you pardon me!” said Melmoth, as he 
basked on the crushed flowers, and darted his withering sneer and 
scowling glance at Isidora. “I am commissioned to trample on 
and bruise every flower in the natural and moral world — ^hyacinths, 
hearts, and bagatelles of that kind, just as they occur.” *7® 

Here it is Mephistopheles who speaks, but in the 
following passage it is the mocking grin of a brother of 
Schedoni or Lara: 

“The stranger appeared troubled, an emotion new to himself 
agitated him for a moment, then a smile of self-disdain curled his 
lip, as if he reproached himself for the indulgence of human feeling 
even for a moment Again his features relaxed, as he turned to the 
bending and averted form of Immalee, and he seemed like one 
conscious of agony of soul himself, yet inclined to sport with the 
agony of another’s. This union of inward despair and outward 
levity is not unnatural. Smiles are the legitimate olfepring of happi- 
ness, but laughter is often the misbegotten child of madness, that 
mocks its parent to her fece.’t* 

The central episode of the novel (which is made up of 
several stories one inside the other, like the Thousand and 
One Nights or the masterpiece of Cervantes, works which 
Maturin quotes) consists of the love-affair of Melmoth, 
who here conforms to the type of the enamoured fiend in 
Oriental tales, with a girl who has been brought up in 
the primitive simplicity of a tropic isle: a creature who 
begins life with the name of Immalee and a character like 
that of Haid^e in Byron’s Don Juan, and finishes it with 
the name of Isidora and a destiny which relates her to 
Goethe’s Margaret. Beside Immalee, the innocent child 
of Nature, the accursed wanderer feels as though relieved 
of the weight of his horrible destiny; he is on tie point of 
confiding to her his ghastly secret; but then his hatred for 
all forms of life seizes upon him again, and he torments the 
pure rirgin with threats, peals of Satanic laughter, and 
other Byronic-Mephistophelian terrors. Immalee, now 
become Isidora and transplanted to Spain, consents to 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 119 
unite her fate with Melmoth’s; the lovers are joined in 
matrimony at dead of night by the spectre of a monk, 
among the ruins of an ancient monastery. Meanwhile 
Isidora’s father imposes upon her a betrothed chosen by 
himself, and the girl, who already carries in her womb the 
fruit of her guilt, flies with Melmoth; her brother Feman 
pursues and is killed in a duel by Melmoth, as Valentin 
was by Faust. Melmoth is recognized by the spectators, 
Isidora flings herself, desperate, upon her brother’s body 
and refuses to follow her demon lover; she is shut up in the 
prisons of the Inquisition — ^as could be foreseen — ^and the 
infant girl who is born in the meantime is destined for 
the cloister. Finally the child is found dead in its mother’s 
arms, and the mother dies of a broken heart after refusing 
for the last time the offer of Melmoth, who has visited her 
in prison and conjured her to accept liberty at a terrible 
price (a scene parallel to the one in Margaret’s prison; 
Isidora’s last cry is also for her wretched lover: ‘Paradise!’ 
she says to Fra Jos^ who attends her in her last moments, 
'will he he there?''). Melmoth, after wandering the earth 
for a hundred and fifty years, returns to his ancestral 
castle, and there is seized upon by devils who hurl him 
into the sea; in fact he has the classic end of those who are 
possessed of the Devil — Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, 
Byron’s Manfred, Lewis’s Monk. 

The novel abounds in frightful descriptions of tortures 
both physical and moral. There is a long story of a forced 
monastic vow derived from Diderot’s Religieuse"^^ and 
elaborated with a subtlety of penetration into the terrors 
of the soul such as is elsewhere only found in Poe ; there is a 
parricide who recognizes his own sister in the woman whom 
he has been pleased to starve to death with her lover; there 
is a mother who pretends that her son is the fruit of an 
adulterous union, in order to avoid his marrying a poor 
cousin whom he is thus persuaded to think is his sister; 
there is a trial of the Inquisition, a mysterious personage 
being present, as in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Italian ; there is a 
whole family reduced to desperation and hunger through 
the avarice of the priests, and a youth who sells his own 
blood to support them. As for the latter, he is foimd one 



ii8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

something of the Wandering Jew, something of the 

vampire : 

‘Melmoth, as he spoke, flung himself on a bed of hyacinths and 
tulips. . . . “Oh, you will destroy my flowers,” cried she, , . . “It 
is my vocation — I pray you pardon me!” said Melmoth, as he 
basked on the crushed flowers, and darted his withering sneer and 
scowling glance at Isidora. “I am commissioned to trample on 
and bruise every flower in the natural and moral world — ^hyacinths, 
hearts, and bagatelles of that kind, just as they occur.” 

Here it is Mephistopheles who speaks, but in the 
following passage it is the mocking grin of a brother of 
Schedoni or Lara: 

‘The stranger appeared troubled, an emotion new to himself 
agitated him for a moment, then a smile of self-disdain curled his 
lip, as if he reproached himself for the indulgence of human feeling 
even for a moment. Again his features relaxed, as he turned to the 
bending and averted form of Immalee, and he seemed like one 
conscious of agony of soul himself, yet inclined to sport with the 
agony of another’s. This union of inward despair and outward 
levity is not unnatural. Smiles are the legitimate oifepring of happi- 
ness, but laughter is often the misbegotten child of madness, that 
mocks its parent to her face.’’* 

The central episode of the novel (which is made up of 
several stories one inside the other, like the Thousand and 
One Nights or the masterpiece of Cervantes, works which 
Maturin quotes) consists of the love-affair of Melmoth, 
who here conforms to the type of the enamoured fiend in 
Oriental tales, with a girl who has been brought up in 
the primitive simplicity of a tropic isle: a creature who 
begins life with the name of Immalee and a character like 
that of Haidde in Byron’s Don Juan^ and finishes it with 
the name of Isidora and a destiny which relates her to 
Goethe’s Margaret. Beside Immalee, the innocent child 
of Nature, the accursed wanderer feels as though relieved 
of the weight of his horrible destiny; he is on the point of 
confiding to her his ghastly secret; but then his hatred for 
all forms of life seizes upon him again, and he torments the 
pure virgin with threats, peals of Satanic laughter, and 
other Byronic-Mephistophelian terrors. Immalee, now 
become Isidora and transplanted to Spain, consents to 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 119 
unite her fate with Melmoth’s; the lovers are joined in 
matrimony at dead of night by the spectre of a monk, 
among the ruins of an ancient monastery. Meanwhile 
Isidora’s father imposes upon her a betrothed chosen by 
himself, and the girl, who already carries in her womb the 
fruit of her guilt, flies with Melmoth; her brother Fernan 
pursues and is killed in a duel by Melmoth, as Valentin 
was by Faust. Melmoth is recognized by the spectators, 
Isidora flings herself, desperate, upon her brother’s body 
and refuses to follow her demon lover; she is shut up in the 
prisons of the Inquisition — as could be foreseen — ^and the 
infant girl who is born in the meantime is destined for 
the cloister. Finally the child is found dead in its mother’s 
arms, and the mother dies of a broken heart after refusing 
for the last time the offer of Melmoth, who has visited her 
in prison and conjured her to accept liberty at a terrible 
price (a scene parallel to the one in Margaret’s prison; 
Isidora’s last cry is also for her wretched lover: ‘Paradise!’ 
she says to Fra Jos6 who attends her in her last moments, 
'will he he there?'). Melmoth, after wandering the earth 
for a hundred and fifty years, returns to his ancestral 
castle, and there is seized upon by devils who hurl him 
into the sea; in fact he has the classic end of those who are 
possessed of the Devil — Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, 
Byron’s Manfred, Lewis’s Monk. 

The novel abounds in frightful descriptions of tortures 
both physical and moral. There is a long story of a forced 
monastic vow derived from Diderot’s Religieuse'^'^ and 
elaborated with a subtlety of penetration into the terrors 
of the soul such as is elsewhere only found in Poe; there is a 
parricide who recognizes his own sister in the woman whom 
he has been pleased to starve to death with her lover; there 
is a mother who pretends that her son is the fruit of an 
adulterous union, in order to avoid his man^n^ a poor 
cousin whom he is thus persuaded to think is his sister; 
there is a trial of the Inquisition, a mysterious personage 
being present, as in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Italian ; there is a 
whole family reduced to desperation and hunger through 
the avarice of the priests, and a youth who sells his own 
blood to support them. As for the latter, he is found one 



122 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

incarnation of the type of ‘Medusean’ beauty dear to the 
Romantics, and her visit to Paris left an indelible im- 
pression on the artists of the time. 

‘Pile, maigre, osseuse, les yeux flamboyants, elle jouait aux effets 
de spectre ou de fantome. Volontiers elle accr&litait certains bruits 
qm, pour plus lui mettaient i la main la coupe ou le poignard 

des trahisons italieimes i la cour des Borgia.’ 

Thus — ^not without malice — Madame d’Agoult describes 
her in her Souvenirs (Paris, Calmann L^vy, 1877, p. 357). 
The strange funereal furnishings of the Princess Belgio- 
joso’s rooms in Paris suggested to Gautier their com- 
parison with ‘une vraie s^rie de catafalques’. Madame 
d’Agoult described her bedroom as follows : 

‘Une chambre i coucher tendue de blanc, avec un lit de parade 
rehauss6 d’argent mat, tout semblable au cataAlque d’une vierge. 
Un n^gre enturbaimd, qui dormait dans I’antichambre, &isait en 
vous introduisant dans toute cette candeur un effet m^lodramatique.’ 

On the episode of the corpse in the cupboard A. Augustin- 
Thierry writes: 

‘Stendhal, s’il n’^tait point mort trop t6t, efit aim^ recueillir la 
trop romanesque aventure pour la prfeter i quelque heroine des 
Ckraniques italiennes, Helene de C^mpireali ou la duchesse de 
Palliano. II s’agit bien d’un veritable accb vesanique, de la n&ro- 
latrie exasp4r& d’une amante voulant i tout prix conserver prbs de 
soi le corps du bien-aimA’ 

The extravagances of the ‘Jeimes-France’ are too well 
known for it to be necessary to emphasize them here; 
any one who wishes to get a rail account of them has only 
to turn the pages of Le Romantisme et les mceurs^ by 
Maigron. It will suffice to illustrate Sainte-Beuve’s asser- 
tion quoted at the end of the preceding chapter by giving 
examples from some of the most characteristic writers and 
books. 

14. One of the most characteristic of all is L'Ane mort 
et la femme guiUotinee, by Jules Janin (1829), well 
described by Arsfene Houssaye as a ‘chef d’ceuvre Strange 
qui est k la ibis Time et la raillerie de la litt^rature roman- 
tique’.si The multiplicity of motives which went to the 
inspiration of this work is reflected in the ambiguity of its 
character. It contains a polemic against the prudishness 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 123 
of censorship and of the type of criticism then prevailing, 
and at the same time a parody of the roman-charogne, of 
which Gautier wrote, a few years later (1834), in the pre- 
face to Mademoiselle de Maupin : 

‘A c6t6 du roman moyen- 3 ge verdissait le roman-charogne. . . . 
Litt^rature de morgue ou de bagne, cauchemar de bourreau, hal- 
lucination de boucher ivre et d’argousin qui a la fievre chaude! . . . 
Le si^e etait ^ la charogne, et le charnier lui plaisait mieux que 
le boudoir.’ 

The aim of Janin is to arrive at certain bitter truths by 
means of an exaggeration of the methods of the horror- 
school. His book is a satire on society and the human 
heart — on a society which honours vice when it is powerful 
and brazen and condemns it when weak and cringing, and 
on the foolish feminine heart which values the craze for 
luxury and personal vanity above real affection. The 
heroine, Henriette, a country girl who takes to a loose life, 
is honoured by every one as long as she conforms to the 
type of ‘laideur morale’ in which Janin ironically sees the 
height of horror — b. horror much more intense than 
the physical horror described in the roman-cAarog»e: 

‘Chaque jour je me trouvais poss6d6 davantage de je ne sais quel 
^pouvantable d&ir de pousser I’horreur ^ bout, de savoir eniin si je 
pouvais la vaincre ou bien si je serais vaincu par elle: or pour moi 
i’horreur n’existait que 111 oil 6tait Henriettej cette nature si vide et 
si fausse, cet ablme d’^golsme et de feiblesse, cet Stre qui n’avait 
rien de Fhomme moral.’** 

(Observe that Janin here anticipates Baudelaire’s concep- 
tion of woman.) 

But when Henriette, in a flash of conscience — ^and it is 
the only time that any passion enters her heart or any re- 
morse troubles her soul — skills the man who had been the 
first to seduce her and who now comes, drunk, to buy her 
body in the brothel to which she has been reduced — ^when 
Henriette commits this crime which is ‘la seule action 
courageuse et juste de cette fille’, society punishes her by 
condemning her to death. Janin sees the world as governed 
by evil, in the same way as Sade: 

‘On a fait beaucoup de trait& sur la nature morale qui ne prou- 
vent rien; on s’est arrfete li d’insignifiantes apparences quand on 



124 the romantic agony 

aurait ddk creuser jusqu’au tuf. Que me font vos moeurs de salon 
dans une soci 6 t 6 qui ne vivrait pas un jour si elle perdait ses 
mouchards, ses ge 61 iers, ses bourreaux, ses maisons de loterie et 
de d^bauche, ses cabarets et ses spectacles ? Ces agents principaux 
de Taction sociale. , 

If one disregards for a moment the topical and polemical 
motives to examine simply the way in which Janin behaves 
in relation to the terrifying spectacles which he describes, 
one can easily discover a fundamentally serious concern 
under the superficial appearance of satire or parody. It 
is a similar attitude to that of P. J. Toulet in Mon- 
sieur du Paur (1898), in which the author, describing ‘le 
vice anglais*, sticks so close to scabrous details that any 
possible smile which he may have wished to arouse dies 
on the reader’s lips. Janin is far removed from the 
humoristic evasion of a morbid obsession such as moved 
De Quincey to write his essay on Murder as one oj the 
Fine ArtsM 

Janin, moreover, holding up to ridicule the horrors of 
the modern drama, says: 

‘Ob done avcT^vous eu plus de drames qu’b Rome ? Quelle fable 
dgyptienne ou grecque, inventde, imaginde, faite b plaisir, pouvait 
dmouvoir b T 6 gal d’un combat de gladiateurs, b I’egal de cette 
trag^ie sanglante, ob chaque sebne 6 tait une blessure, ob chaque 
aae 6 tait une mort? Et quels acteurs encore! Ils ^talent jeunes, 
ils 6 taient beaux, il dtaient nusl Le sang coulait rouge et fumant 
sur leur poitrine. ... A votre sens, ces soupirs et ces larmes r^pandues 
sur du vrai sang et sur de vrais cadavres sont-ils b comparer b ce 
que nous savons en fiat de trag^die? Non, regarded le cirque 
sangknt, voilb le drame vrai, terrible, palpitant, efFroyable; fi de vos 
vers, de votre prose, de vos tr^eaux, de vos poignards b ressort, du 
sang de vos acteurs achet^ b la bou^erie, de vos tragedies royales 
aux aristocratiques douleurs! deux tigres, je ne dis pas deux Ger- 
mains, qui se battent, sont plus dramatiques que tout Racine. .. .’85 

The teller of the story of UJne mort follows Henriette 
in her career as a court^an, first in luxury, then in the 
hospital (Aere is a description of a surgical operation on 
her ^beautiful body: ‘(^uand I’opdrateur en eut fini avec le 
fer il employa le reu; il brfila impitoyablement, regardant 
par intervalle son ouvrage avec la complaisance d’un jeune 
peintre qui ach&ve un paysage’ : here Janin seems to antici- 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 125 
pate De Quincey, but is really echoing Diderot) then in 
a brothel, then in prison. He gloats over the sight of the 
prisoner; putting his head through a slit in the back of a 
romantically mouldy, mossy bench in the courtyard of the 
prison so as not to cast a separate shadow, he watches every 
day through the air-hole of her cell ‘les mouvements de sa 
captive’. The eternal feminine is not dead in the unfor- 
tunate woman, who looks at herself in a metal button 
filched from the warder. Then — ^height of horror — in 
order to obtain a postponement of her sentence (Henriette 
has been condemned to death after a trial which provides 
material for more satire) the prisoner makes the repulsive 
warder get her with child.®’ The narrator feels himself 
fainting with voluptuous horror at this sight, and ex- 
periences a similar feeling when, later, he sees the car- 
penter making love to his sweetheart actually on the 
guillotine destined for Henriette’s execution. Last act: 
the narrator, by bribing the executioner, gets the victim’s 
body handed over to him for honourable burial. Romantic 
irony is very evident in the bill presented by the exe- 
cutioner, and also in the conclusion: the corpse is pilfered 
by night for the lecture-room of the School of Medicine 
and the fine linen shroud stolen by some low-class women 
to make themselves dresses. The story — faithful to the 
precepts of the roman-charogne — begins with the descrip- 
tion of a slaughter-house and ends with the violation of a 
tomb. 

It was said of JJAne mort (by the critic of the Mercure 
de France au sthcle^ September 1831) that the author 
had combined the manner of Sterne with that of Diderot. 
If this be true of the style, the responsibility of the subject- 
matter must be credited to a different name — that of the 
Marquis de Sade. 

15. It may therefore be surprising to find Janin, a few 
years later, in 1834, denouncing the horrors of Sade in a 
review article.®® One can hardly believe that this is the 
author of UAne mort\ and one may even go so far as to 
guess that this assumed moral tone is a pose. For Janin’s 
article, conceived in the style of the popular preacher, has 
the same effect as the parody of articles of this sort which 



126 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

occurs in the preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin\ and it is 
doubtful whether the author’s intention was not actually 
to encourage the reading of Sade’s books, so much does he 
exaggerate the corrupting influence of that unreal world 
of monotonous butchery. We learn, in fact, that thanks to 
this article and that of the Bibliophile Jacob there was an 
awakening of interest in Sade. But to get rid of the idea 
that Janin was acting the moralist simply as a joke one 
has only to read his review of Borel’s Madame Putiphar^ 
written in 1 839,89 which is conceived in the same pompous 
style of rhetorical indignation and fits him for the applica- 
tion of Nietzsche’s aphorism, ‘There is no greater liar than 
an indig'nant man.’®" Janin’s insincerity went so far as to 
make him reprove in Borel the exact form of complaisance 
that he himself had shown in UJne morn 

‘On reste confondu quand on songe que I’auteur s’est donn6 k 
lui-m6me cet alfreux courage. Une fois dans I’horrible cachot oh 
s’accomplit son drame, il resiste h routes les tentations d’en sortir. 
II reste accroupi la nuit et le jour sur sa victime. II suit d’un ceil 
curieux la decomposition de ce cadavre. . . . Pour ma part, je ne 
comprends pas cette obstination fiineste d’un romancier, qui, apr^s 
tout, est le maltre absolu de son conte.* 

When — ^as we shall have occasion to mention soon — 
Borel imagines his hero meeting the Marquis de Sade in 
prison, and speaks in defence of the latter, Janin explodes : 

‘Et voyez oh vous mene le paradoxe! C’est du marquis de Sade 
que I’auteur a piti6! Oui, cet atroce et sanglant blasphemateur, cet 
obschne historien des plus formidables reveries qui aient jamais agit6 
la fievre des demons, le marquis de Sade, il se montre dans cette 
histoire comme l’int6ressante victime des lettres de cachet!... XJn 
mariyrl Un martyr celui-lhl Mais si jamais les lettres de cachet 
ont pu €tre justifiees, etc.... Un martyr! un martyr! le marquis de 
Sade un martyr!’ 

This is exactly the tone that Janin had used in his essay 
on Sade five years before. In any case it is probable that 
the reading of Sade made a strong impression on the 
Romantics, who took certain morbid fantasies so seriously 
Jthat they wished to translate them into real life. Both 
Romantics and Decadents asked nothing better than to have 
their minds poisoned. How much of Baudelaire’s madness 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 127 
was due to this receptive state of mind ? The humoristic 
catharsis of a M^rimfe or a De Quincey was by no means 
possible to every one. 

*Acceptez ces pages’, says Janin, preparing to give his estimate 
of the biography of Sade, ‘comme on accepte en histoire naturelle 
la monographie du scorpion ou du crapauA... Mais par oti com- 
mencer et par oh finir? Mais comment faire cette analyse de sang 
et de boue? Comment soulever tous ces meurtres? oh sommes- 
nous ? • . . 0 quel infatigable sc^lerat ! . . , Le tremblement vous saisit 
rien qu’h ouvrir ses pages.... Comme c’est d6j^ une horrible puni- 
tion pour le malheureux qui souille ses yeux et son coeur de cette 
horrible lecture, de se voir poursuivi par ces tristes fantomes et 
d’assister, timide, immobile et muet, h ces lugubres scenes, sans 
pouvoir se venger qu’en lac^rant le volume ou en le jetant au feu ! 
Croyez-moi, qui que vous soyez, ne touchez pas h ces livres, ce 
serait tuer de vos mains le sommeil, le doux sommeil, cette mort 
de la vie de chaque jour, comme dit Macbeth. . . 

Why therefore should Janin have read the works of 
Sade? The following hardly constitutes a satisfactory 
reply: 

*C’est justement parce que nous avons tous 6t6 assez Inches pour 
parcourir ces lignes fatales, que nous devons en premunir les hon- 
netes et les heureux qui sont encore ignorants de ces livres. . . . Car, 
ne vous y trompez pas, le marquis de Sade est partoutj il est dans 
toutes les biblioth^ues, sur un certain rayon myst^rieux et cache 
qu’on d&ouvre toujours; c’est un de ces livres qui se placent 
d’ordinaire derriere un saint Jean Chrysostome, ou le Traiti de 
morale de Nicole, ou les Pensees de Pascal.’ 

After this preamble, Janin, like a good preacher, passes 
on to examples; and to prove what becomes of an ‘homme 
ignorant, timide et frele, h la lecture d'un livre qui suffirait 
h ^branler les organisations les plus solides’, he tells the 
pathetic story of a youth who became hysterical on reading 
Justine. This is his peroration: 

‘Les livres du marquis de Sade ont tu^ plus d’enfants que n’en 
pourraient tuer vingt mar^chaux de Retz, ils en tuent chaque jour, 
ils en tueront encore, ils en tueront I’llme aussi bien que le corps.’ 

Any comparison between a genuine Bluebeard like 
Gilles de Rais and a mental Bluebeard like Sade was con- 
sidered by Anatole France to be unsuitable, but according 
to the documents published by Bourdin, Sade, it must be 



128 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

admitted, did his best to live up to his lecherous imagin- 
ings.®* And if, when the Revolution broke out, Sade 
declared himself an opponent of the death penalty (in 
Justine^^ he had written, ‘II n’y a que les lois qui n’ont pas 
ce privilege’ [of disposing of human life]), it must be re- 
membered that Saint-Just also, before he held supreme 
power in his hands, declaimed against the punishments of 
the law.®3 

The conclusion of Janin’s essay is in a more humorous 
style: 

‘Cet honune 6tait de fer. Vous I’enfermiez dans un cachot, il 
se racontait k lui-m^tne des inAmies. Vous le laissiez libre dans sa 
chambre, il vociferait des infemies par les barreaux de sa fenStre. 
Se promenait-il dans la cour, il tra^ait sur le sable des figures 
obscbnes. Venait-on le visiter, sa premibre parole dtait une ordure, 
et tout cela avec une voix trbs-douce, avec des cheveux blancs trbs 
beaux, avec I’air le plus aimable, avec une admirable politesse; k le 
voir sans I’entendre, on I’eftt pris pour I’honorable aieul de quelque 
vieille maison qui attend ses petits enfiints pour les embrasser.’ 

The disciples of Gall flung themselves upon the skull of 
the Marquis, almost before he was dead, in the hope of 
finding there the key of the mystery: 

‘Mais cette tbte . . . est petite, bien conformbe, on la prendrait pour 
la tbte d’une femme, au premier abord, d’autant plus que les organes 
de la tendresse maternelle et de I’amour des enfiints y sont aussi 
saillants que sur la tbte mbme d’HdloTse, ce modele de tendresse et 
d’amour....’ 

1 6. About 1 830, people were so con'\dnced of the viru- 
lence of Sade’s writings that Frdd^ric Souli^ in the 
Memoires du Triable (1837), made Captain Fdlix put a copy 
of Justine into the hands of Henriette Burd, who had been 
shut up alone in a dungeon by her family, with the idea 
that reading it would drive her mad. 

Souli6 also professed the greatest loathing of ‘ce 
frdndtique et abominable assemblage de tous les crimes 
et de toutes les saletds’ which constituted the work of Sade, 
and,^ embittered bjr his previous lack of success, launched 
out into an invective against Paris in the same manner as 
Janin, who had said in UAne mart'. ‘Paris corrupteur de 
toutes les innocences, qui fane toutes les roses, qui fl^trit 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 129 
toutes les beaut^s, insatiable d^bauch^.’ ‘Do not come to 
Paris’, warns Souli^, ‘if you are possessed by an ambition 
for pure glory.’ Because in Paris: 

‘vous verrez le public, ce vieux debauch^, sourire It la virginity 
de votre muse, la fl^trir d’un baiser impudique pour lui crier en- 
suite: Aliens, courtisane, va-t-en, ou amuse-moi; il me faut des 
astringents et des moxas pour ranimer mes sensations ^eintes; as-tu 
des incestes fiiribonds ou des adulteres monstrueux, d’efFrayantes 
bacchanales de crimes ou des passions impossibles k me raconter? 
Alors parle, je t’&outerai une heure, le temps durant lequel je 
sentirai ta plume Sere et envenim^ courir sur ma sensibilitd calleuse 
ou ^ngrenfe; sinon, tais-toi, va mourir dans la misbre et I’obscuritA 
La misbre et I’obscurit^ entendez-vous, jeunes gens ? . . . Vous n’en 
voulez pas, et alors que ferez-vous, jeunes gens? vous prendrez une 
plume, une feuille de papier, vous 6crirez en t^te: Mirrmres du 
Diable^ et vous direz au siMe: Ah! vous voulez de cruelles choses 
pour vous en r^jouir; soit, monseigneur, void un coin de ton 
histoire.’ 

Actually, as we shall now see, Souli^’s novel contains 
‘de cruelles choses’; but to save appearances the novelist 
hastens to add: 

‘Que Dieu nous garde toutefois de deux choses que le monde 
pourrait nous pardonner, mais que nous ne nous pardonnerions pas: 
qu’il nous garde de mensonge et d’immoialit^! .. . Ce que nous vous 
dirons sera done vrai et moral; ce ne sera pas notre faute si cela 
n’est pas toujours flatteur et honnfete.’ 

The book hinges on the axiom of Sade: frosf iritis du 
vice and malheurs de la vertu. Soulid illustrates the axiom 
mainly in the moral sphere (the ‘laideur morale’ of Janin) 
but is not the less concerned, on this account, with sadism. 
His satire, like that of UAne mort, is directed against con- 
temporary society, which honours vice (provided it is 
powerful and at the same time hypocritical) and oppresses 
virtue.JDuels, poisonings, murders, parricides, adulteries, 
incests, condemnations of the innocent, follow each other 
thick and fast in Soulid’s pages, which contain the material 
for several short stories such as d’Aurevilly, and novels 
such as Mendfes, wrote in the second half of the century. 
The ghastly phantasmagoria is dominated by the figure 
of a dandyish Beelzebub with his ‘hideux sourire’ and his 
‘fauve re^d de cannibale, contemplant la victime qu’il 



130 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

va devorer’. (Something of the same kind is to be found in 
Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein^ though Souli^’s devil is 
descended from the Diable hoiteux of Le Sage.)^'* 

Virtuous women (is it necessary to add.?) languish in 
prisons and asylums, or kill themselves in desperation, 
while prostitutes and murderesses pass for paragons of 
virtue in the eyes of the world; and the hero, the Baron 
Armand de Luizzi, over whose destiny brood the conse- 
quences of a horrible tragedy which befell his family in the 
Middle Ages (a period no less infested with incests and 
adulteries than the modern age in which Soulid is writing), 
proves fatal, against his own will, through the evil arts of 
the devil, to all those whom he loves or approaches. Caro- 
line, Luizzi’s virtuous sister, victim of every possible out- 
rage and reduced to beggary, arrives, with the object of 
saving her brother, at the place which Juliette, the wicked 
sister, had once left to enter upon a career of vice, and where 
Luizzi meets her in all the pomp of luxury. It is obvious 
that Souli6 is retracing the outlines of Sade’s Justine and 
Juliette.* There is a spectacular finale — ^not unlike that of 
The Monk—m which Luizzi, having lost in his game with 
the devil, is swallowed up in an abyss together with his 
sinister ancestral castle; and the three martyred women — 
obviously to justify to some extent the moral purpose of the 
book — are exalted to higher spheres. Souli6, as we have 
seen, maintained that he gave free rein to his cruel 
imagmation in order to attract the public, and there are not 
wanting here and there in the course of the book hints 
of irony in accordance with the taste of the period, as in 
UAne mart. But, like Janin, Soulie also, though affecting 
to scorn horrors, plunges into them with the greatest 
delight: 

Un inceste!” s’&ria Luizzi, **Mon cher, vous 6tes stupide!” 
dit le Diable avec emportement, “vous n’avez pas la moindre id6e 
dra ressources de la viej vous etes de la litt^rature de votre ^poque 
d’une manibre effr6n^ vous feites tout de suite un drame abomi- 
nable d’une chose qui me parait trbs divertissante.” ’*5 
, ‘“J’ai profitd de mon habit seculier, qui ne pouvait lui dire qui 
j’teis (says the priest who has told Luizzi of the terrible medieval 
tragedy in his family) pour lui montrer jusqu’i quelle triste ferocitd 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 131 
on pouvait pousser cette manic litt^raire qui ne vit plus que d’in- 
ceste, de meurtre et de sang, et je lui ai racont^ cette l^gende.” ’s® 

Perhaps this taste for the horrible can be attributed to 
the period more than to Soulid himself. At any rate the 
book had an immense success and influenced considerably 
the supreme example of the roman-feuilleton, the Mysthres 
de Paris. In his other novels, which were soon forgotten, 
Souli^ also had regular recourse to the arsenal of the ‘tales 
of terror’.®’ 

17. A more serious concern with horror than that of 
Souli^ and many others (we know that bans vivants such as 
Dumas and Gautier cultivated the macabre and the horrible 
as a fa^ionable pose) is shown In the work of Pdtnis 
Borel, whom the Facetious Th^o called the most perfects 
ijexample of the Romantic ideal, and who was a kind of 
minor Baudelaire ante litteram. 

Certainly Pdtrus Borel, the lycanthrope who flaunted a 
waistcoat a la Robespierre and an ogre’s beard, and missed 
no opportunity of displaying his superb feline teeth, was a 
dandy in the style of the Terror, a fumiste. But in him this 
playing with violent sensations became intenser and more 
serious: he depicted his hero Champavert as killing him- 
self in circumstances both macabre and grotesque (he is 
found in a horse-knacker’s yard — such as Janin loved — 
with a huge knife planted like a stake in his breast) ; and 
he finished by committing suicide himself, apparently, by 
letting himself die of sunstroke, in 1859. 

‘Chanter I’amour! ... — he says — Pour moi I’amour c’est de la 
haine, des g^issements, des cris, de la honte, du deuil, du fer, des 
larmes, du sang, des cadavres, des ossements, des remords — je n’en 
ai pas connu d’autre.’ 

The frontispiece which Adrien Aubry designed later 
for Borel’s Champavert, contes immoraux (1833) shows 
quite clearly the sort of spectacle that may be looked for if 
once one enters the peepshow of horrors that the book con- 
tains. In the middle is a medallion with the effigy of the 
author looking like a sinister Jesuit; on the left a guillo- 
tine, a dark lantern, a skull; on the right a boatman who 
with a pole is violently pushing under water a woman with 
her breast uncovered and her arms tied behind her back; 



132 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the grim outline of a Gothic castle is to be seen on the 

river bank. 

The first story, Monsieur de F Argentiere, Faccusateur, 
presents us with one of the infinite variations of the perse- 
cuted maiden. The progressive degradation of Apolline 
is followed with the same minute attention to unpleasant 
detail as has been noticed in UA ne mart. Apolline is raped 
by an unknown man on a dark night ;98 reduced to extreme 
misery, she abandons her new-born child in a cesspool and 
goes through the same stages as Janin’s Henriette; the 
Hospice de la Bourbe, the Prison de la Force, ‘dans un 
cachot dtroit et sombre,’ and finally the Place de la Grfeve. 
The chief responsibility for her being condemned to death 
lies with the Public Prosecutor, in whom Apolline recog- 
nizes the man who raped her. ‘It is he, that man who is 
speaking! It was he whom I saw by the light of the moon, 
with his sallow face, his red hair, and those deep-set 
eyes!’ Monsieur de I’Argentifere pushes his sadistic in- 
clinations to the point of being present at the execution, 
which takes place amid the morbid curiosity of the 
crowd: 

‘Quand le coutelas tomba, il se fit une sourde rumeurj et un 
An^is, pench^ sur une fen^tre qu’il avait lou6e 500 fr., fort satis- 
fait, cria un long very wel [sic] en applaudissant des mains.’ 

We shall come across this Englishman again several times 
during the second half of the nineteenth century 

Jaquez Barraou, le charpentier is the next story. It is an 
extremely horrible tale of the criminal jealousy of two 
negroes over a beautiful mulatto woman; the scene is 
Havana. Then there is Don Andrea Fesalius Fanatomiste. 
The anatomist drugs his wife’s lovers and uses their bodies 
for his experiments; his wife, at the sight of the jars in 
which are preserved in spirits the remains of her last lover, 
dies of horror, and the indefatigable scientist cuts up her 
beautiful body also; the scene is Madrid. Baudelaire re- 
called at least one detail of this story: 

‘Sur k porte 6tait appendu un squelette, qui, lorsqu’elle ^tait 
agit^e, bruissait comme ces bougies de bois que les chandeliers 
su^ndent pour enseigne, quand elles sont remu6es par k bise.’ 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 133 
For in the Metamorphoses du vampire we read; 

A mes c&t& 

Tremblaient confus^ment des debris de squelette 
Qui d’eux-m€mes rendaient le cri d’une girouette 
Ou d’une enseigne, au bout d’une tringle de fer, 

Que baknce le vent pendant les nuits d’hiver. 

From Madrid we pass on to Jamaica, to the loves of 
Three-fingered Jack^ VObi'. nor are horrors and corpses 
lacking here either. In placing his scene among the 
negroes of the Antilles Borel was only following in the 
footsteps of Hugo in Bug-JargaL In the last three stories 
we return to France. Dina la belle juive ^ 0 ° has for her 
motto the litanies of the Virgin: ‘Rosa mystica, Turris 
Davidica’, &c. One thinks immediately of Baudelaire’s 
Franciscae meae laudes. Dina, in her anxiety for the fate of 
Aymar, behaves in the way already indicated in Keats’s 
Ode to Melancholy (‘Then glut thy sorrow on a morning 
rose ... or on the wealth of globfed peonies . . .’) and in 
the manner later adopted by the disciples of Baudelaire 
and Huysmans’ des Esseintes: 

‘D^ravfe par k douleur, elle recherchait ardemment tout ce qui 
irritait ses nerfe, tout ce qui tidlkit et 4 veilkit son apathie; elle se 
chargeait des fleurs les plus odorantes ; elle s’entourait de vases pleins 
de syringa, de jasmin, de verveines, de roses, de lys, de tub^reuses, 
elle feisait fumer de I’encens, du benjoin; elle ^pandait autour d’elle 
de I’ambre, du cinnamome, du storax, du muse.’ 

A Sa6ne boatman rapes and murders Dina in the manner 
illustrated in the frontispiece, and then — ^behaving like 
Monsieur de I’Argenti^re — ^pretends to have fished up her 
corpse, in order to earn the two pistoles reward. Romantic 
irony — ^for since Dina is a Jewess, the boatman has no 
right to the money for his pretended discovery. 

The following is the story of Passereau VScolier. A 
medical student who suspects his mistress of infidelity 
causes her to fall into a well, the top of which is level with 
the ground; he covers her over with the coping-stones, 
then challenges her lover to a duel, with the agreenient 
that the lady shall belong to the survivor. Before firing, 
Passereau advises his opponent to go next morning and 



134 the romantic AGONY 

have a look at the well. Baudelaire did not merely make 

use of this situation in the Vin de F assassin : 

Je I’ai jet^e au fond d’un puits, 

Et j’ai mSme pouss^ sur elle 
Tous les pav& de la margelle. . . . 

but also took from it the main idea of a play, L'lvrogne.'^^^ 
Passereau’s request to the executioner, whom he went 
to find expressly for the purpose, remained famous: ‘Je 
d^sirerais que vous me guillotinassiez.’ 

The last story, Champavert le lycanthrope (the pseudo- 
nym of Borel himself), completes the museum of horrors 
with the story of the macabre circumstances of the last 
days of Champavert. He makes a misanthropic will, dis- 
inters the little corpse of his own and Flava’s child, kills 
Flava, and ends his life among the carcasses of the horses 
slaughtered at the Buttes de Montfaucon. 

Even the tale Gottfried Wolfgang which Borel plagia- 
rized from Irving (f^he Adventure of the German Student) 
is typical for the conclusion.* In it a German student, 
given to Swedenborgian speculations and subject to 
hallucinations, is tormented by the memory of a beauti- 
ful woman of whom he has caught a glimpse in a dream. 
One night, roaming the streets of Paris during the Terror, 
he stumbles against the guillotine, and in a flash of light- 
ning sees a figure bending down, with dishevelled hair, 
which he recognizes as the woman of his dream. He takes 
her home, and notices that she has round her neck a ribbon 
of black velvet. The student declares to her his passion, 
and the woman tells him that she has been urged towards 
him by a supernatural impulse. In the morning he finds 
her cold: at his cries the police rush in and recognize 
the woman as a victim of the guillotine. Gottfried re- 
moves the black ribbon firom her neck and sees beneath it 
the cut of the axe. This tale, which is worthy of Poe, is 
claimed to have been found in the possession of an inn- 
keeper at Boulogne, to whom it had been given by a 
strange, taciturn young Englishman. 

No less frantic than Champavert^ the novel called 
Madame Putiphar (1839) deliberately piles horror upon 
horror, in a style in which mystification is interwoven with 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 135 
sincerity in a decidedly curious manner. Certain pages are 
anticipatory of the grotesque method of Lautr&mont — as, 
for instance, the beginning of the eighteenth chapter of the 
sixth book: 

‘Ma tiche est triste; mais puisque je me suis engage a dire ces 
malheurs, je Taccomplirai. Je m’etais cru I’esprit plus fort, le cceur 
plus dur ou plus indifferent; j’avais cru pouvoir toucher k ces in- 
fortunes et en sculpter le long bas-relief avec le calme de Partisan 
qui fa9onne une tombe; combien je me suis abuse! A mesure que 
j’avance dans cette valine de larmes, mon pied souleve un tourbillon 
de m^lancolie qui s’attache k mon kme comme la poussiere s’attache 
au manteau du voyageur. Pas un outrage dont j’aie donne le 
spectacle qui n’ait allume en moi une colere veritable; pas une 
souffrance que j’aie peinte qui ne m’ait cout6 des pleurs. Courage, 
ma muse! encore quelques pages, et toutes ces belles douleurs ra- 
mass^es par toi avec un soin si religieux, toutes ces belles douleurs 
jusqu’k ce jour ignor&s du monde, etouffees, perdues, comme de 
petites herbes sous les gerbes de faits &latants et sans nombre qui 
jonchent le sol de Phistoire, auront trouve leur denouement et 
rev^tu une forme qui ne leur permettra plus de mourir, de mourir 
dans la memoire des hommesP 

When the highly unfortunate Patrick — ^younger bro- 
ther of Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon — is released from the 
Bastille on February 27th, 1784, he falls in with two other 
prisoners, one of whom is ‘une des gloires de la France — 
un martyr’ : 

‘Ce que j’entends par cette gloire de la France, s’il faut le dire, 
c’etait Pillustre auteur d’un livre centre lequel vous criez touts 
k Pinfamie, et que vous avez touts dans votre poche, je vous en 
demande bien pardon, cher lecteur; e’etait, dis-je, tvhs haut et tres 
puissant seigneur, monsieur le comte de Sade [ric], dont les fils 
degen6r& portent aujourd’hui parmi nous un front noble et fier, 
un front noble et purP 

Borel acquits Napoleon of the horrible cruelty of having 
persecuted Sade: ‘C’eut ^te mal d’ailleurs de la part de 
I’empereur corse d’accommoderainsiunempereur romainP 

This is an example of romantic mysti figati on (but theiokP> 
Borel took a genuine pleasure^’ih "spectacles "oF cruelty). 
Another romantic mystification is the recantation inserted 
by the author into the twenty-third chapter of the seventh 
book, in which, declaring that light had dawned upon him, 



136 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

he proclaims that it is not true that the good pay for the 
wicked, and that if this sometimes seems to be so, it is 
because the good are either only good in appearance, or 
are expiating the wrongs of their race: 

‘Je me suis efForc6 tout le long de ce livre & faire fleurir le vice, 
k faire prevaloir la dissolution sur la vertu; j’ai couronnd de roses 
la pourriture; j’ai parfumd de nard la lichet6; j’ai versd le bonheur 
k plein bord dans le giron de I’in&mie; j’ai mis le firmament dans 
la boue; j’ai mis la l^ue dans le ciel; pas un de mes braves heros 
qui ne soit une victime; partout j’ai montrd le mal oppresseur et 
le bien opprime. ... — Et tout cela, toutes ces destinies cruelles 
accumul6es, n’ont about! apr^ tant de peines qu’k me donner un 
ddmenti !’ 

Each of the unhappy lovers, Ddborah and Patrick, is 
descended from an accursed race. Borel, like Souli^, 
makes an effort to save his face, and finishes by evoking a 
picture of social nemesis. ‘Car Dieu et le peuple, ces deux 
formidables ouvriers, vont se mettre i la besogne ! — et car 
leur besogne comme eux sera terrible!’ 

In connexion with Janin’s violent article, of which we 
have already spoken, we are given this peep behind the 
scenes : 

‘ “Si je parle de votre livre”, dit-il k Pdtrus Borel qui lui de- 
mandait un article, “je le comparerai tout simplement aux oeuvres 
du marquis de Sade”. “Comparez!” dit P6trus. Jules Janin ne se 
le fit pas dire deux fois. Lorsque M. Bertin vit Particle en question, 
“Hoik! Jules”, dit-il au critique, “tu veux done que nous ayons un 
proc^?” ‘.‘Nous n’aurons pas de proefe”, repondit Jules Janin. 
“L’auteur le veut ainsi”. “Etrange auteur!” fit M. Bertin.’ 

But even if Madame Putiphar had only a moderate suc- 
cess, it at least called forth the praise of Baudelaire for ‘la 
peinture des hidems et des tortures du cachot, qui monte 
jusqu’k. la vigueur de Mathurin’.'’®^ 

The verse of the Rhapsodies is in no way to be distin- 
gtiished from the usual productions of the followers of 
Byron. But, according to Baudelaire, Borel played a not 
.unimportant part in the history of his century. Without 
Shim, he says, there would be a gap in the course of Roman- 
jiticism. And he concludes : 

‘Pour moi, j’avoue sinc^rement, quand mSme j’y sentirais un 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 137 
ridicule, que j’ai toujours eu quelque sympathie pour ce malheureux 
dcrivain dont le gdnie manqud, plein d’ambition et de maladresse, 
n’a su produire que des dbauches minutieuses, des Adairs orageux, 
des figures dont quelque chose de trop bizarre, dans I’accoutrement 
ou dans la voix, altere la native grandeur. II a, en somme, une 
couleur k lui, une saveur sm generis. . . 

'Sa spdcialitd fiit la Lycanthrofie\ he had already said. 
After all, ly canthrop y is only another name for sadis m, w 

18. There is no need of further examples to show how 
vitiated was the atniosphere in which Baudelaire grew up. 
Books such as UAne mart and Champavert indicate the 
trend of a whole literature; nor was it only such writers as 
Eugene Sue, Paul Lacroix (‘Bibliophile Jacob’), Roger de 
Beauvoir, and Frdddric Soulid who had ‘un fond de Sade 
masqud, mais non point meconnaissable’, as Sainte-Beuve 
expressed it;*®^ nor only the obscure hohhmes of Murger, 
successors of the ‘ Jeunes-France’, who delighted in morbid 
extravagances.* Even allowing for exaggeration in the 
following denunciation delivered by the Comte Horace 
de Viel Castel,*®® one cannot deny that it is on the whole 
iustified: 

‘On ne sait pas assez tout le mal produit par les oeuvres mon- 
strueuses du marquis de Sade {Justine et Juliette). Je ne parle pas 
seulement des tristes r&ultats produits par la lecture de ces ignobles 
romans, mais de I’influence qu’ils ont eue sur toute la litterature 
du XIX.® siecle. Hugo dans Notre Dame de Paris, Jules Janin 
dans VAne »jor/,Th6ophile Gauthier [«V] dans M.lle de Maupin.^^i 
M.me Sand, E. Sue,*®® de Musset, etc. etc., Dumas dans son 
Thidtre, tous sont parents de Sade, tous jettent un morceau de sa 
debauche dans leurs productions.’ 

Moreover, it was not merely the desire for money, as 
Sainte-Beuve tries to make out, which drove writers to put 
into their work ‘un rafHnement d’immoralitd et de de- 
pravation’, in order to ‘exploiter fructueusement les mau- 
vais penchants du public.’ This may be true of such 
writers as Soulid and Sue, but what is to be said when one 
realizes that the source of inspiration has this same quality 
even in the great artists ? What is to be said when one sees 
a B grlio ;^ giving such great prominence in his operas to 
macabre, obscene, and ferocious subjects, in Harold en 
Italic combining debauch with blasphe my and slaughter 



138 THJi KOMAJNllt; A(jUJNy 

{Orgie des brigands), in the Francs-Juges translating into 

J ausic the feeling of terror aroused by the ferocity of the 
ecret tribunal (Ouverture), and, in the Symphonie fan- 
tastique, going from a Marche au suppUce to the Black Mass 
of the Songe d'une nuit du sabbat} Is there not also, per- 
haps, in the work of Muss^ an obvious insistence on the 
gainful aspect of love, on the voluptas dolendi}^^ The Con- 
fession d'un enfant du siicle (1836) is a document no less 
symptomatic of ‘m^chancet^ dans I’amour’ than the Liai- 
sons dangereuses (Octave, also, meditated upon the ‘cat^- 
chismes du libertinage’ of the eighteeneth century). There 
is mention of the libertine’s sensation of ‘terreur m6l6e de 
volupt6’ (II® Partie, chap. 2), of the ‘curiosity du mal, 
maladie infdme qui nait de tout contact impur’ (V® Partie, 
chap. 4); of real and veritable hair-shirts (Octave fixed the 
medallion on which was the portrait of his mistress on the 
‘plaque heriss^e de pointes’ of a ‘discipline’ and wore it on 
his chest so as to feel it pierce his flesh); and also of moral 
hair-shirts, the latter consisting in continual scenes of 
jealousy which were sought after with the thirst of a mar- 
tyr. Octave, the ‘libertin colfere et cruel’, behaved towards 
the virtuous Brigitte in much the same way as Valmont 
towards Madame de Tourvel, except that this time the 
libertine is not content with inflicting tortures upon others, 
but is ‘toujours avide de souffrir’ himself. 

‘Sa cervelle ressemble k ces cachots de I’Inquisition oil les 
murailles sont couvertes de tant d’instruments de suppUce, qu’on 
n’en comprend ni le but ni la forme et qu’on se demande en les 
voyant si ce sont des tenailles ou des jouets.’ 

On the influence of the Confession there is to be found 
the following note (dated 1871) in the Journal of the 
Goncourts: 

‘En lisant ha Confession d'un enfant du siicle, je suis frappd de 
Taction que certains livres exercent sur certains hommes, et comme 
CCS hommes, chez lesquels le pere n’a pas imprime une marque de 
fobrique, sortent tout entiers des entrailles d’un bouquin. Toute la 
mdchancefo trouble de ce livre, je Tai sentie, je Tai touche chez 
quelques jeunes gens, mais encore accrue, d^veloppee, mise en 
pratique fielleuse par une basse naissance. Alors je me demandais 
curieusement, si ces jeunes tiraient tout cela de leur propre fonds. 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 139 
Aujourd’hui je m’aper9ois que cette m^chancetd n’etait qu’un 
pkgiat, un plagiat liltdraire, qui, avec I’aide de detestables instincts, 
est devenu k la fin un temperament. En sorte que I’Octave de la 
fiction a vraiment feit, comme dans une matrice humaine, des tas 
de petits Octaves, en chair et en os.’“® 

Leaving aside Dumas and Hugo, authors who were sub- 
stantially sane in spite of their affectation of contemporary 
fashions, let us consider Delacroix, Baudelaire, Flaubert. 

19. ‘Delacroix, lac de sang hantd de mauvais anges . . 
— a line as vividly descriptive as are the essays which 
Baudelaire wrote on his favourite painter, and of which I 
should much prefer to quote the most important passages, 
rather than make a paraphrase of them which is necessarily 
pale and enfeebled by the remoteness of our changed 
tastes. For actually to-day the tendency is to apply to 
Delacroix a criticism which was intended as praise by 
Gautier when he made it, whereas to us it gives, rather, 
an impression of censvire: ‘S’il exdcutait en peintre, il pen- 
sait en pofete, et le fond de son talent est fait de littdra- 
ture.’m^ It is symptomatic of Baudelaire’s state of mind 
that he should appreciate particularly those painters and 
musicians who were most steeped in literature, such as 
Delacroix and Wagner, who combined intellectualism 
■^ith a turbid sensuality. 

This painter Delacroix, described as ‘cannibale’, ‘molo- 
'chiste’, ‘doloriste’, with his untiring curiosity for slaughter, 
fire, rapine, putrideros, illustrator of the darkest scenes of 
Faust and of the most satanic poems of his adored Byron; 
with his love of the feline (what a vast number of studies 
he made of biting beasts!) and of violent, hot countries, 
Spain, Africa; with his enthusiasm for frenzied action; 
lamented that ‘son 4 me a ^nerv^ ses feux, ses vingt-cinq 
ans sans jeunesse, son ardeur sans vigueur’, and made this 
confession 

‘Ce matin, H^I&rae est venue. 0 disgrice . . . je n’ai pu.’ 

‘La fille est venue ce matin poser. Helene a dormi ou fait 
semblant. Je ne sais pourquoi je me crus obligd de faire mine 
d’adorateur pendant ce temps, mais la nature n’y 4 tait point Je me 
suis rejete sur un mal de t€te; au moment de son depart, et quand 
il n’ 4 tait plus temps. . . le vent avait change. Scheffer m’a console 



140 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

le soir, et il s’est trouv^ absolument dans les mfemes intentions. Je 
me feis des peurs de tout, et crois toujours qu’un inconv6nient va 
Stre eternel. . . . 

‘Je suis toujours comme 9a. . . . Mes resolutions s’dvanouissent 
toujours en presence de Taction. J’aurais besoin d’une maltresse 
pour mater la chair d’habitude. J’en suis fort tourmentd et soutiens 
k mon atelier de magnanimes combats. Je souhaite quelquefois Tar- 
rivee de la premihre femme venue. Fasse le del que vienne Laure 
demain! Et puis, quand il m’en tombe quelqu’une, je suis presque 
fiche, je voudrais n’avoir pas h agirj c’est Ih mon cancer. . . .’ 

Hence the ‘vieux levain’, the ‘fond tout noir k con- 
tenter' which he felt within himself,^ *3 ■^as forced to 
find some outlet, and found it in his paintings. Perhaps 
the malarial fever which attacked him in 1820 and 
slowly devastated him is sufficient to explain the reason of 
the ‘hymne terrible compost en Thonneur de la fatality et 
de Tirrdm^diable douleur’, as Baudelaire described his 
work.?“4 Can the fever explain the sort of cannibalism 
which reddens as with blood the gloom of his canvases ? 
Or must we trace there too the influence of the prevailing 
taste, of the cruel studies of physical torment by G6ricault, 
painter of madmen and corpses.? 

‘All these violent works are the result of an exhausted 
fblood’, declared Dargenty.^is ‘Je n’ai point d’amour. . . . 
Je n’ai que de vains rives qui m’agitent et ne satisfont rien 
du tout’”® — this is the painful mystery that Baudelaire 
felt to be celebrated in Delacroix’ melancholy pictures, 
jthe expression of the wild interior world of his imagina- 
tion. The troubled springs of his inspiration and his 
unsatisfied desires account, as in the similar case of Swin- 
'^bume, for the hyper-Dionysiacal type of expression, the 
quivering nervoxSness of style, which almost make one 
think of a pictorial rendering of a piece of music, of the 
‘soupir ^touff^ de Weber’ (just as some critic felt in Swin- 
burne’s verse a kind of virtual music).”’' Both the poet and 
the painter seem to have spasmodic yearnings towards 
something beyond mere artistic expression; starting from 
darkness, their desire is lost in darkness. ‘Limbes in- 
sond^ de la tristesse.’ . . . ‘Fanfares Stranges . . .’ Not 
without reason was Delacroix the object of a veritable cult 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARgUIS 141 
on the part of Maurice Barres, ‘Du sang, de la volupt^, 
de la mort’ might well be the motto of his work. 

Tortured, sick women, the beautiful prisoner bound 
Aiaktd on a horse in the Massacre de Scio, the lovely concu- 
bines slaughtered on Sardanapalus’ funeral bed, as in one 
of the orgies described, but without the faintest breath of 
art, by Sade (in his first sketch Delacroix showed the slave, 
who on the right of the picture is being stabbed, as being 
beheaded); the woman who has been raped and murdered, 
stretched on the steps in a disordered attitude, and the 
other, the blond patrician, who, defiled and exhausted, 
bends over the livid face of her dead mother, in the Prise 
de Constantinople'^ drowned Ophelia, whose image haunted 
Delacroix all his life; the shade of Margaret appearing to 
Faust (a demon holds up by the hair the pale corpse with 
the bosom immodestly uncovered); Angelica and Andro- 
meda chained to the rock, Olindo and Sofronia bound to 
the stake, the Indian woman seized by a tiger, Rebecca 
ravished, the other young woman dragged off by pirates 
to their boat, the liyid beauty of the woman’s corpse in the 
Apollon triotnphant ... it is a whole harem of ghastly 
phantoms that move in funereal file across the canvases of 
Delacroix. There is Medea possessed by her mad venge- 
ance, who with the movement of a lioness clasps the two 
babes to her marble bosom: in her hand she holds a 
dagger; a shadow falls like a mask over her eyes. There 
is the bloody corpse of the beautiful youth Saint Sebas- 
tian, from which a woman’s delicate fingers are plucking 
the arrows; and that of another youthful martyr. Saint 
Stephen, from whose brow a woman also wipes the blood 
of his wounds; the tortured body of young Foscari upon 
which his mother and his bride abandon themselves weep- 
ing; the bishop of Lifege massacred in an orgy. . . . Finally 
there is the ceiling of the Palais Bourbon in Paris, where 
the painter’s gloomy conception seems to embrace the 
whole history of hiimanity, and a kind of philosophy of 
sadism, pronouncing the changeless cruelty of Nature, is 
distilled from the episodes portrayed — Pliny destroyed by 
Vesuvius, Archimedes stabbed by an ignorant soldier, 
Seneca committing suicide at the will of a tyrant. Saint 



142 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

John the Baptist beheaded for a woman’s whim, the 
Israelites exiled and enslaved at Babylon, Italy trampled 
by the fierce hordes of Attila. The whole universe is 
suffering and pain, as in Swinburne’s Anactoria : not only 
do the bodies of men strain in violent action or twist in 
pain or fall exhausted in agony, not only does the flesh 
tremble with nerves stretched beyond bearing, or languish 
in mortal pallor : but beasts and plants seem to vibrate with 
the same shudder of pain, and the sky is dyed with a strange 
lymph like gall, and bends, veiled with soot, over feverish 
waters, or over an implacable sea. 

Delacroix, lac de sang hant6 de mauvais anges, 

Ombrag^ par un bois de sapins toujours vert. 

Oil, sous un del chagrin, des fanfares Stranges 
Passent, comme un soupir ^touffd de Weber. 

These lines take us from the paintings of Delacroix to the 
sinister House of Usher, with its gloomy pool on which 
weighs an atmosphere of fatality and its maniac who de- 
lights in funereal improvizations, among which is ‘une 
certaine paraphrase singuli^re, — une perversion de I’air 
d^j^ fort Strange, de la dernifere valse de von Weber.’^i® A 
contact between Delacroix and Poe had become established 
in the mind of Baudelaire. In 1856 he sent a copy of his 
translation of the Tales of Mystery and Ima^nation (His- 
toires extraordinaires) to Delacroix, who made this com- 
ment in his diary .-1 

‘Baudelaire dit dans sa pr4fece “que je rappelle en peinture ce 
sentiment d’ideal, si singulier et si plaisant dans le terrible”. II 
a raison...’ 

20. ‘Vous dotez le ciel de I’art d’on ne sait quel rayon 
macabre. Vous cr^ez un frisson nouveau’ — here it is 
Victor Hugo writing to Baudelaire.120 At present there is 
a tendency to isolate all that is sanest and of most universal 
import in the poetry of Baudelaire. The ‘femmes damn^es’ 
are easily forgotten for the ‘petites vieilles’, the black 
Venus for the golden-hearted servant-maid, and the dandy 
of ecclesiastical cut, perfumed with sulphur rather than 
incense, which Baudelaire strove to appear, is on the way 
to being canonized seriously as a saint.^^i But the ‘frisson 
nouveau’ which his contemporaries felt in him is not to 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 143 
be found iathe poems which the readers of to-day prefer; 
the Baudelaire of his own age was the Satanic Baudelaire, 
who gathered into a choice bouquet the strangest orchids, 
the most monstrous aroids from among the wild tropical 
,flora of French Romanticism. His contemporaries saw in 
him the poet who had gone to seek his materials — the 
words are Sainte-Beuve’s^^z — I’extr^mit^ du Kamt- 
chatka litteraire’, in order to build the strange pavilion 
/filled ‘Baudelaire’s Folly’. Baudelaire himself claimed to 
have chosen an unexplored province, to have sought to 
‘extraire la beautd du mal’ ; but as to horrors, it can be seen 
from what I have already shown how little there remained 
for Baudelaire to invent. He sent a wave of electricity 
through the shapeless -putridero which had been gathering 
into a mass since 1820, and, galvanized by it, the phantoms 
took on an appearance of life. Now they have returned to 
-'the cemetery ofthe Past, these ghouls, vampires, and incubi, 
but the Danse Macabre was prolonged till after the dawn 
of the present century. 

It may be claimed that these are mere external appear- 
ances, from which Baudelaire should be defended as 
though from a false self. It will be repeated that there was 
a great deal of affectation and deliberate mystification in 
certain of his attitudes; that Baudelaire’s satanism fulfilled 
chiefly the function of a barrier which an extremely tor- 
mented and delicate soul had erected in defence of its own 
jealous inner self: a kind of hard and gorgeously coloured 
carapace to protect the profounder vein of shy confession 
that might otherwise have evaporated into inexpressive- 
ness; so that even the crudest among his extravaganzas 
should be interpreted by way of symbol and metaphor. 
Just as nobody would take seriously a witticism of his 
about the taste of a new-born baby’s brain, or the fact that 
he dyed his hair green, so we are advised to consider aU 
the wildest manifestations of his mind as awkward instinc- 
tive devices, if not as mere deplorable child’s play, to which 
no importance must be attached. However, since we are 
here aiming not at an aesthetic judgment but at a psycho- 
logical documentation, it is necessary to insist even on the 
transient aspects of Baudelaire as a man. 



144 the romantic AGONY 

First of all must be remembered: *J’ai cultive mon 
hystdrie avec jouissance et terreur/ And, with regard to 
that convenient little word ‘ennjii^ which literary historians 
generally employ as the ‘Open Sesame* of Romanticism, 
certain qualifying lines of Baudelaire may be quoted: 

C’est PEnnui! — L’oeil charge d’un pleur involontaire, 

11 rive d*khafaud$ en fumant son houka. 

{Les Fleurs du Mai: ‘Au lecteur’) 

II me conduit ainsi, loin du regard de Dieu, 

Haletant et bris6 de fatigue, au milieu 
Des plaines de I’Ennui, profondes et d&ertes, 

Et jette dans mes yeux pleins de confusion 
Des viiements soutlUs^ des hlessures ouvertes^ 

Et Pappareil sanglant de la Destruction! 

(Id,^ ‘La Destruction’) 

^JEnnui is only the most generic aspect of the mal du sihle\ 
its specific aspect is-^sadism.i^3 

A passage from Poe*s The Black Cat is also worthy of 
mention. Baudelaire quotes it in full (from his own trans- 
lation) in his essay on his brother-in-art, in the Revue de 
Paris (March and April, 1852), with a modest word of 
introduction: ‘Ce passage m^rite d’fitre cit6*: 

‘Et puis vint, pour me conduire k une chute finale et irrevocable, 
I’esprit de PERVERSixi, De cette force, la philosophic ne tient aucun 
compte. Cependant, aussi fermement que je crois k I’existence de 
mon dme, je crois que la perversite est une des impulsions primitives 
du ccBur humain, I’une des facultes ou sentiments primaires, in- 
divisibles, qui constituent le caractere de I’homme, — Qui n’a pas 
cent fois commis une action foUe ou vile, par la seule raison qu’il 
savait devoir s’en abstenir? N’avons-nous pas une inclination 
perpdtuelle, en depit de notre jugement, ^ violer ce qui est la loi, 
seulement parce que nous savons que c’est la loi ? Get esprit de per- 
versite, dis-je, causa ma derniere chute. Ce fut ce disir in$ondahle 
que Pdme iprouve de s*affltger elle^^minuP^ — de violenter sa propre 
nature, — de faire le mal pour le seul amour du mal, — qui me 
poussa k continuer, et enfin k consommer, la torture que j’avais 
infligde k cette innocente bete. Un matin, de sang-froid, j’attachai 
uhe corde k son cou, et je le pendis k une branche d’arbre, — Je le 
pendis en versant d’abondantes larmes et le coeur plein du femords 
le plus amerj — je le pendis, parce que je savais qu’il m’avait aim6 
et parce que je sentais qu’il ne m’avait donn^ aucun sujet de col^re. 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 145 
— je le pendis, parce que je savais qu’en faisant ainsi je commettrais 
un crime, un p^ch^ mortel qui mettrait en peril mon ime im- 
mortelle, au point de la placer, si une telle chose etait possible, hors 
de la sphere de la misdricorde infinie du Dieu tr^ misericordieux 
et tr^ terrible.’ 

It is Poe speaking, but it might equally well be Baude- 
laire (see below, Le mauvais vitrier) or Dostoievsky; or, 
indeed, if he had been an artist and not merely a porno- 
grapher, the Marquis de Sade. 

Baudelaire’s discovery of Poe was, as it were, a revela- 
tion of his own hidden self : ‘ J’ai vu, avec ^pouvante et 
ravissement, non seulement des sujets r%v 6 s par moi, mais 
des -phrases^ pens^es par moi, et toites par lui, vingt ans 
auparavant.’ This surprise showed itself as a paramnesia. 
The tales of Poe,, as D. H. Lawrence observed,i2s are 
always a symbolical, mythological translation of the same 
thirst for vmrealizable love (so it is not quite true that ‘dans 
les nouvelles de Poe, il n’y a jamais d’amour’, as Baude- 
laire said 1^26) and of the desire for that complete fusion 
with the beloved being which ends in vampirism. It is a 
nervous ecstasy, which becomes localized in actual genuine 
obsessions — the eyes of Ligeia, the teeth of Berenice; a 
yearning for the absolute knowledge which coincides with 
annihilation and death. In The Oval Portrait the vampire 
obsession is symbolized by the absorption of the model 
into the picture: 

‘Les couleurs qu’il ^talait sur la toile ^taient tir&s des joues 
de celle qui itait assise prfe de lui. . . . “En v^rit^, c’est la Tie elle- 
m€mel” ii se retourna brusquement pour regarder sa bien-aim^e: 
— elle 6tait mortel’ (Baudelaire’s translation.) 

Poe’s lovers resemble each other,‘^and are related by 
blood (Poe married his own cousin) ; their nervous systems 
are already attuned, and sensitized by disease. It is as if 
their nerves had been laid bare to be ligatured like veins. 
Intercourse, in such circmnstances, is incest, murder: the 
couple are consumed in a blaze in which ecstasy and horror 

vare identical.^^? 

“Tout en&nt, j’ai sent! dans mon cceur deux sentiments contra- 



146 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

dictoires, I’horreur de la vie et I’extase de la vie. C’est bien le feit 

d’un paresseux nerveux:’ 

we read in Baudelaire’s Mon cceur mis a And again, 

in a spirit of ‘scherzo ma non troppo’ : 

‘Aimez bien, vigoureusement, cranement, orientalement, fdroce- 
ment, celle que vous aimez. . . . Chez les Incas on aimait sa sceur; 
contentez-vous de votre cousine.’ 

This might almost be a definition of Poe’s type of love, 
with a touch of Luther’s ‘Pecca fortiter’. One more re- 
mark of Baudelaire may be quoted to conclude this part 
of our discussion : 

‘II faut toujours en revenir k de Sade, c’est-k-dire k I’homme 
nature!, pour expliquer le mal.’ 

One sees how much Baudelaire had learned from the 
Divine Marquis. For him, as for Sade, sin is the normal 
state of nature, virtue the artificial reaction of human rea- 
•tson. Only Baudelaire was too subtle a logician not to see 
where the mistake lay: 

‘La plupart des erreurs relatives au beau naissent de la feusse 
conception du dix-huiti^me siecle relative k la morale. La nature 
fut prise dans ce temps-lk comme base, source et type de tout bien 
et de tout beau possibles. La negation du p&he originel ne fut pas 
pour peu de chose dans I’aveuglement gdn^ral de cette ^poque. . . . 
C’est (la nature) qui pousse I’homme k tuer son semblable, k le 
manger, k le s^questrer, k le torturer; car, sit6t que nous sortons 
de I’ordre des n&essit& et des besoins pour entrer dans celui du 
luxe et des plaisirs, nous voyons que la nature ne peut conseiller 
que le crime. C’est cette inAillible nature qui a cr66 le parricide 
et I’anthropophagie, et mille autres abominations que la pudeur et 
la d^licatesse nous emp6(dient de nommer. . . . Passez en revue, 
analysez tout ce qui est naturel, toutes les actions et les d&irs du 
pur homme naturel, vous ne trouverez rien que d’affreux. Tout 
ce qui est beau et noble est le rdsultat de la raison et du calcul. Le 
crime, dont I’animal humain a puis6 le gout dans le ventre de sa 
mfere, est originellement naturel. . . 

It is true that Baudelaire is here putting forward this 
principle with the absurd object of justifying women’s use 
of rn^e-up ; but it is also true that what survives in his art 
survives because it conforms to this principle — ^which, 
indeed, is the starting-point of the Christian religion, or, 
perhaps,"of the Manichean heresy. And, to invert Blake’s 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 147 
remark about Milton, Baudelaire may be said to have been 
of God’s party without knowing it. In practice, he had 
‘made himself into a devil’, as Sainte-Beuve said in writing 
to him: %e had sought to snatch their secret from the 
demons of night’. He made use of religious conviction 
only in order to deny it, in order to enjoy the bitter taste of 
blasphemy (the continual profanation of liturgical phrase-i 
ology is one of the most striking things about his work), as* 
can be seen in the passage quoted above from Poe’s Black 
Caty or in his own Mauvais vitrieri 

^ . . Un autre allumera un cigare ^ cote d’un tonneau de poudre^ 
pour voiry pour savoiry pour tenter la destinhy pour se contraindre 
lui-mdme a faire preuve d’energie, pour faire le joueur, pour con- 
naitre les plaisirs de I’anxiete, pour rien, par caprice, par desoeuvre- 
ment. 

‘C’est une espece d’energie qui jaillit de Fennui et de la reverie j 
et ceux en qui elle se manifeste si opinement sont, en general, 
comme je I’ai dit, les plus indolents et les plus r^veurs des ^tres. . . . 

*J’ai ete plus d’une fois victime de ces crises et de ces elans, 
qui nous autorisent k croire que des Demons malicieux se glissent 
en nous et nous font accomplir, k notre insu, leurs plus absurdes 
volont&. 

‘(Observez, je vous prie, que I’esprit de mystification qui, chez 
quelques personnes, n^est pas le resultat d’un travail ou d’une com- 
binaison, mais d’une 'inspiration fortuite, participe beaucoup, ne 
fut-ce que par I’ardeur du d&ir, de cette humeur, hysterique selon 
les m^decins, satanique selon ceux qui pensent un peu mieux que 
les medecins, qui nous pousse sans r&istance vers une foule d’actions 
dangereuses ou inconvenantes.), . . 

‘Ces plaisanteries nerveuses ne sont pas sans peril, et on peut 
souvent les payer cher, Mais qu’importe I’eternite de la damnation 
a qui a trouve dans une seconde I’infini de la jouissance?’ 

It was evidently the same ‘imp of the perverse’ that dic- 
tated to the poet these lines addressed to his mother: 

‘Ta candeur, ta facilite a etre dupe, ta naivete, ta sensibilite, 
me font rire. Crois-tu done que, si je le voulais, je ne pourrais pas 
te miner et jeter ta vieillesse dans la misere? Mais,yV me retiensy 
et, k chaque crise nouvelle, je me dis: “Non, ma mere est vieille et 
pauvre; il faut la laisser tranquille”.’ 

His soul feels an indomitable desire to afflict and torture 
itself. The lustful pleasure in contamination, in the idea 



148 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

of the soul’s damnation, seems more profound than any 
reasoning, in this poet of the ‘plaisirs plus aigus que la 
glace et le fer’. 

‘Moi, je dis: la volupte unique et supreme de ramour git dans 
la certitude de faire le maL Et Thomme et la femme savent, de 
naissance, que dans le rtial se trouve toute la voluptd*3o 

L* Amour dans sa gu^rite, 

Tenebreux, embusqu^, bande son arc fatal. 

Je connais les engins de son vieil arsenal: 

Crime, horreur et folie! 

{Les Fleurs du Mal^ ‘Sonnet d’Automne’.} 

‘La femme est naturelle^ e’est-k-dire abominable.’^^* 

‘II y a dans Tacte de Pamour une grande ressemblance avec la 
torture ou avec une operation chirurgicale .132 

‘Quant k la torture, elle est n6e de la partie infime du cceur 
de I’homme, assoiffe de voluptds. Cruautd et volupt^, sensations 
identiques, comme TextrSme chaud et Pextrfeme froid.”3 

‘Je crois que j’ai d^j^i ecrit dans mes notes que Pamour ressemblait 
fort k une torture ou k une operation chirurgicale. Mais cette idde 
peut Stre d6velopp6e de la manibre la plus amere. Quand mfeme les 
deux amants seraient trfes €pns et trfes pleins de d&irs r&iproques. 
Pun des deux sera toujours plus calme, ou moins poss6d6 que Pautre. 
Celui-1^ ou celle-12^ e’est Popdrateur ou le bourreau; Pautre, e’est le 
sujet, la victime. Entendez-vous ces soupirs, preludes d’une tragddie 
de d&honneur, ces g^missements, ces cris, ces r^Ies ? Qui ne les a 
profiSres, qui ne les [a] irr&istiblement extorqu& ? Et que trouvez- 
vousde pire dans la question appliquee par de soigneux tortionnaires ? 
Ces yeux de somnambule revulsfe, ces membres dont les muscles 
jaillissent et se roidissent comme sous Paction d^une pile galvanique, 
Pivresse, le delire, Popium, dans leurs plus furieux r&ultats, ne vous 
donneront certes pas dWsi alFreux, d’aussi curieux exemples. Et 
le visage humain, qu’Ovide croyait fa 9 onne pour refl^ter les astres, 
le voil^ qui ne parle plus qu’une expression de ftrocit^ folle, ou 
qui se detend dans une espece de mort. Car, certes, je croirais 
faire un sacrilege en appliquant le mot “extase” k cette sorte de 

d^composition/134 

Deux guerriers ont couru Pun sur Pautre; leurs armes 
Ont 6clabouss6 Pair de lueurs et de sang. 

— Ces jeux, ces cliquetis du fer sont les vacarmes 
D’une jeunesse en proie k Pamour vagissant. 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 149 
Les glaives sont bris&! comme notre jeunesse, 

Ma chere! Mais les dents, les ongles acer^, 

Vengent bientot Tepee et la dague traltresse. 

— 0 fureur des cceurs miirs par Tamour ulcer&! 

Ce goufFre, c’est Tenfer 

Roulons-y sans remords, amazone inhumaine, 

Afin d’eterniser Tardeur de notre haine! 

(‘Duell^m^) 

T1 serait peut« 6 tre doux d’etre alternativement victime et bour- 

reauT^ss 

Sometimes Baudelaire appears in the guise of execu- 
tioner; 

. . . pour m61er Tamour avec la barbarie, 

Volupt 6 noire! des sept Pech& capitaux, 

Bourreau plein de remords, je ferai sept Couteaux 
Bien affil&, et, comme un jongleur insensible, 

Prenant le plus profond de ton amour pour cible, 

Je les planterai tous dans ton Cceur pantelant, 

Dans ton Cceur sanglotant, dans ton Cceur ruisselantl 

(‘A une Madone*. 

and particularly in the lines "A celle qui est trop gaie* 

Ainsi, je voudrais, une nuit, 

Quand Theure des voluptfe sonne, 

V^ers les tr&ors de ta personne 
Comme un Idche tamper sans bruit. 

Pour chitier ta chair joyeuse, 

Pour meurtrir ton sein pardonne, 

Et faire k ton flanc etonne 
Une blessure large et creuse, 

Et, vertigineuse douceur! 

A travers ces levres nouvelles. 

Plus ^clatantes et plus belles, 

T’infuser mon venin, ma sceur! 

But there is very little doubt as to which of the two, the 
black Venus Jeanne Duval, or her lover, was the real vic- 
tim. ‘Quaerens quern devoret" — Baudelaire wrote under 
Jeanne DuvaTs portrait, remembering the verse in the 
First Epistle of St. Peter (v. 8): ‘Be sober, be vigilant; 
because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh 
about, seeking whom he may devour.^ Jeanne is a'ltigress 



150 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

(‘Les Bijoux’, ‘Le L6th6’), a ‘bSte implacable et cruelle’ (‘Je 
"f adore k I’egal . . a ‘machine aveugle et sourde, en 
cruautdsftconde’, k drinker of blood (‘Tu mettraisTunivers 
. . demon without pity, a ‘M^g^re libertine’ (‘Sed non 
satiata’),^a frigid idol,-^sterile and unfeeling (‘ Avec ses vgte- 
ments . . vampire who pierces the poet’s heart like a 

dagger and invades his humiliated soul with the violence 
of a band of demons (‘Le Vampire’), an inhuman Amazon 

‘Duellum’).^38 And the poet is a 

Martyr docile, innocent condamne, 

Dont la ferveur attise le supplice . . . 

(‘Le Lethe’.)'” 

It is essential for him to believe his mistress a monster : 
Inf^me ^ qui je suis li6 
Comme le format h la chatne . . . 

(‘Le Vampire’.) 

La grandeur de ce mal oh tu te crois savante 
Ne t’a done jamais fait reculer d’^pouvante, 

Quand la nature, grande en ses desseins cach&, 

De toi se sert, 6 femme, 6 reine des p6ch&, 

— De toi, vil animal, — pour petrir un genie ? 

0 fangeuse grandeur, sublime ignominiel 

(‘Tu mettrais I’univers . . .’) 

A comment on these lines is provided by one of the 
Maximes consolantes sur Vamour^v^ in which, hinting at 
love for a woman who has reached the last depths of per- 
dition, as in UAne mort^ and seeking the reason of it, he 
concludes : 

‘Dites hardiment, et avec la candeur du vrai philosophe: “Moins 
sc^lerat, mon id^al n’eftt pas ith complet. Je le contemple, et me 
soumetsj d’une si puissante coquine la grande Nature seule salt ce 
qu’elle veut faire. Bonheur et raison suprSmes! Absolu ! resultante 
des contraires! Ormuz et Arimane, vous 6tes le mSme!” ’ 

This necessity of believing the lover to be a monstrous 
^creature is a characteristic of sadism. Baudelaire insisted 
upon it more than once. Now, in a major key, he evokes 
his ‘rouge id&l’ (‘L’ld&l’): 

Ce qu’il iaut k ce cceur profond comme un ablme, 

C’est vous. Lady Macbeth, Sme puissante au crime, 

R6ve d’Eschyle 6clos au climat des autans; 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 15 1 
and now, in a more discursive tone:i^^ 

‘Quelle horreur et quelle jouissance dans un amour pour une 
espionne, une voleuse, etc. La raison morale de cette jouisance. 

‘II faut toujours en revenir a de Sade, c’est-^-dire k Thomme 
naturel, pour expliquer le mal. Debuter par une conversation sur 
I’amour, entre gens difficiles. Sentiments monstrueux de I’amitie 
ou de I’admiration pour une femme vicieuse.’ 

After all that has been said, the reason of Baudelaire’s 
erotic exclusiveness will be understood, and of his strange 
conduct towards Madame Sabatier, and it can be seen 
why some people gave credit of truth to the rumour re- 
ported by Nadar. Perhaps what he said of Poe may be 
applied in part to Baudelaire himself also:^+* 

‘Quant li I’ardeur avec laquelle il travaille souvent dans Thor- 
rible, j’ai remarqu6 chez plusieurs hommes qu’elle etait souvent le 
r&ultat d’une tres grande ^nergie vitale inoccupee, quelquefois d’une 
opiniatre chastet^ et aussi d’une profonde sensibility refouiye.’ 

The case of Baudelaire, indeed, was not very different 
from that of Delacroix: perhaps it had some affinity with 
that of Swinburne.* His inexhaustible need to be occupied 
with macabre and obscene subjects, his desire to terrify 
^nd shock people (there was, for example, the episode of 
the blond woman whom he pictures in the position of Juno 
punished by Jupiterj^^s — these are traceable to one and the 
same source. ‘L’escalier secret de I’alcdve’ in this case is 
only to be opened with that one particular key which 
Sainte-Beuve recommended should not be forgotten. 

These are the titles of some of the novels which he had 
planned to write (T1 faut peindre les vices tels qu’ils sont’, 
he remarked, like all the other writers of the ‘fr^ndtique’ 
school): Les Enseignements d’un monstre., La Maitresse 
vierge, Le Crime au college, Les Monstres, Les Tribades, 
U Amour parricide, Une infdme adoree. La Maitresse de 
Vidiot, VEntreteneur, La Femme malhonnSte, Jeanne et 
r automate (which was to contain ‘tous les libertinages’) : 
one seems to be reading, the title-pages of the books which 
are (or were) sold in certain kiosks. Mendes collected 
these succulent morsels from the Baudelairean table, and 
retailed them, towards the end of the century, in Zo'har, 
Lapremihre maitresse, Miphistophila, Sec., adopting some- 



152 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

what clumsily the moral tone of Mademoiselle Bistouri. And 
like Mend^s, what a number of other ‘p^trarchistes de 
I’horrible’ there have been ! Baudelaire also gave Mend^s’^'*® 
the idea of a long poem on modern India, with its misery, 
its tortures, its plagues and oppressions, its languors of 
love, and forms blurred by the unbearable light: 

‘ “Je dirai”, scandait-il, “la lamentable beautd de I’dternel Midi, 
et les splendeurs squameuses des Ibpres dans I’adorable et exdcrable 
comscation du jour!” ’ 

Mirbeau’s China, in Le Jardin des supplices^ was derived 
from this Baudelairean India. 

He had also planned poems on VAutel de Moloch^ Le 
seduisant croquemort^ La Salle des martyrs.^ Le Cholera a 
V Opera ou '’au bal masqu 6 \ the latter obviously following 
Poe’s example (The Masque of the Red Death). 

Baudelaire merely sowed the seed of the tropical flora 
of fleshy, monstrous, putrescent plants which were destined 
to spring up in the hothouses of the Jin de sikle\ but of 
these ‘flowers of evil’ there now remains, among many 
withered orchids, nothing more than, here and there, a 
magnificent thorny rose — a rose of the kind that will 
always smell sweet. 

21. ‘Baudelaire en vers et Flaubert en prose’, said 
Pdladan in 1885 the analogy could not bejuster and is 
to-day taken for granted.’''^* Baudelaire and Flaubert are 
like the two faces of a Herm planted firmly in the middle 
'"of the century, marking the division between Romanticism 
^nd Decadence, between the period of the Fatal Man and 
fthat of the Fatal Woman, between the period of Delacroix 
and that of Moreau. 

DumesniP+s> warns us not to take too literally the pro- 
fessed admiration of Flaubert for the Marquis de Sade. 
This admiration, we are told, was often a question of pose 
and arose out of the somewhat free conversations which 
took place in a ‘milieu artiste’, between people who were 
friends or at any rate supposedly so; nor could Flaubert 
foresee that among the guests at the Diners Magny was 
sitting a Judas, ready with pencil and note-book to take 
down jokes and trifles which were to be divulged in due 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 153 
course in that least generous of all books of memoirs, the 
Journal of the Goncourts. 

'^Dimanche^ Novembre 1858, Flaubert, une intelligence hant« 
par de Sade, auquel il revient comme k un mystfere et k une tur- 
pitude qui I’afFriolent. . . . 

‘29 Janvier i860. Causerie sur de Sade auquel revient toujours, 
comme fascine, I’esprit de Flaubert: “C’est le dernier mot du 
catholicisme”, dit-il. . . 

But we need not have recourse to the testimony of the 
Goncourts, nor to that of another dangerous friend, 
Sainte-Beuve^s® (who, as Croce remarks, ‘had a fine nose 
in such cases’), nor even to elaborate psycho-analytical 
theories like that of Reik,isi who is not without penetration 
even though he does indulge in the usual ingenuities of 
psycho-analysts. Flaubert’s works speak quite clearly, his 
youthful manuscripts and volumes of letters even more 
clearly; indeed the documentary evidence is so abundant 
that, were it not for the Jn de mn-recevoir of those who 
think like Dumesnil, I should be ready to accept Flau- 
bert’s sadistic obsession as proven. 

' Let us consider his various books. — Madame Bovary, 
in order to excite her imagination, felt the necessity of 
reading ‘des livres extravagants oil il y avait des tableaux 
orgiaques avec des situations sanglantes’ (an obvious 
allusion to Sade). And the relish which the author feels 
‘in laying bare every wound of Emma’s soul, in refusing 
her any glimmer of moral virtue, and in the enjoyment of 
the agony which assails her when she is harassed and 
crushed by the impostures in which she has become em- 
/broiled, like a mouse caught in a trap’,i5® is of the same 
kind as the relish which Janin took in telling the story of 
his lovely but infamous heroine who ended on the guillo- 
tine (it is hardly necessary to repeat again that there is not 
the least intention of comparing the two works on artistic 
grounds, even though UAne mort is not without merit). 
uSalammh6 is a picture in the manner of Delacroix, ex- 
cept that instead of the beautiful female slaves agonizing 
under the ferocious eye of Sardanapalus, we have the 
beautiful male slave suffering unspealable tortures imder 
the eye of his goddess-like beloved; for with Flaubert 



154 the romantic AGONY 

we have entered the dominion of the Woman, and 
sadism appears under the passive aspect which is usually 
galled i^asochism (as though the active and passive aspects 
were not usually both present in sadism, and a mere change 
of proportions really justified a change of name). 

In the Legende de saint Julien Vhosfitalkr Julian, ac- 
cording to Flaubert’s conception of him, is credited with a 
new characteristic which is not found in the traditional 
account — ‘la passion voluptueuse du sang’. When, as a 
boy, he kills a pigeon by strangling it, ‘les convulsions de 
I’oiseau faisaient battre son coeur, I’emplissaient d’une 
joie tumultueuse et sauvage. Au dernier raidissement, il 
se sentit d6faillir,’i54 

But it is particularly in the Tentation that the clearest 
proofs of Flaubert’s obsession may be found, for the 
Tentation, in which Flaubert, as has been remarked, put 
his whole self into the person of the Saint, is from be- 
ginning to end an orgy a la Sade — ^with as much sublima- 
tion as is compatible with the subject. 

‘Au milieu du portique, en plein soleil, une femme nue dtait 
attachde centre une colonne, deux soldats la fouettant avec des 
lanieress k chacun des coups son corps entier se tordait . . . et belle . . . 
prodigieusement. (// se passe les mains sur le front.) Non! non! je 
ne veux pas y penser! . . 

‘Les Juife tu^rent tous leurs ennemis. ... La ville, sans doute, 
regorgeait de morts! II y en avait au seuil des jardins, sur les 
escaliers, k une telle hauteur dans les chambres que les portes ne 
pouvaient plus tourner! . . . Mais voilk que je plonge dans des id6es 
de meurtre et de sang!’ 

It would take too long to quote all the obvious passages 
of this kind — the Saint’s vision when he pictures himself 
in the act of slaughtering the Arians at Alexandria, wading 
in the blood of slain women and children and shuddering 
with joy at the feel of it on his limbs; his religious flagella- 
tion which turns into algolagnia the minute description 
(as of a sadistic voyeur) of the penitent woman baring her 
feet and whipping herself (in the 1849 version); the 
episode of Priscilla and Maximilla flogged by the eunuch 
Montanus (the appearance of the two women, as described 
by Flaubert, is an example of the ‘Medusean’ type of 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 155 
beauty) ; the tableaux vivants of the Valesians and the Cir- 
concelliones; the funeral orgy in the catacombs; Ennoia, 
she who had been the Fair Helen, who now bears in her 
countenance the traces of bites and on her arms the marks 
of blows, worn and degraded, prostituted to the whole 
world^s^ — a typical example of sadistic beauty; the stories 
of vampires related by Apollonius; the horrible tortures 
employed by exotic religions; sacred prostitution; the 
mutilations of the Corybantes; Adonis and Osiris torn to 
pieces, nymphs groaning and bleeding beneath the axes 
of the woodcutters; the monster Martichoras; and finally 
the identification of Lust with Death, till the two are 
united in a single image which makes one think of Baude- 
laire’s Les deux bonnes seeurs^^'^ and Les Metamorphoses du 
vampire, or of an etching by Rops : 

‘Antoine aper^oit au milieu des tenfebres une manibre de monstre 
levant lui. C’est une tdte de mort, avec une couronne de roses. 
Elle domine un torse de femme d’une blancheur nacr^e. En des- 
50US, un linceul etoile de points d’or fait comme une queue; — et 
‘out le corps ondule, k la maniere d’un ver gigantesque qui se 
iendrait debout.’ 

^<f*rofanation is the inevitable companion of cruelty. 
First of all, there is the profanation of the image of the 
Madonna, which Flaubert seems to have derived from 
Lewis’s Monk',^^^ then there are the sacrilegious and ob- 
scene practices of the innumerable sects, some of which 
'such as that of the Ophites) are Black Masses pure and 
simple; the allurements of Apollonius (‘J’arracherai devant 
ioi les armures des dieux, nous forcerons les sanctuaires, 
le te ferai violer la Pythie!’); and the necrophilistic visions 
'especially, in the version of 1 849, the temptation beside 
;he corpse of Martiallus’ daughter). 

In other works of his, the imp of the perverse takes on 
Jie same forms as in Poe (The Black Cat), in Baudelaire 
[Le mauvais vitrier), and in Dostoievsky. It is thus in the 
Legende de saint Julien Vhospitalier, which can be com- 
Dared with the anecdote of the moujik who, after profaning 
the Host, has a vision and is converted (in Dostoievsky’s 
T)iary of an Author). 

Flaubert’s feminine ideal is, naturally, a woman of 



10 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

jinfamous character, a prostitute, an adulteress. Examples of 
this can be seen in Memoires d'un fou (1838) and Novembre 
(1842), which, like all Flaubert’s early works, although 
often of an indifferent artistic merit, reveal some funda- 
mental traits of his soul. (Among these works there are 
some, such as Rive d'enjer/ii^yf) or La Peste d Florence 
j(i 836), which fail to rise above the standard of a macabre- 
lecherous fantasy by Souli6; others, such as the D emigre 
seine de la mart de Marguerite de Bourgogne (i 835 or 1 836), 
or Un Parfum d (i 836),^59 are almost on a level with 
Janin— -or even with Borel, as for instance the frenzied 
Quidquid voluerisd\%'>>i)' Others, again, make us think 
of Barbey d’Aurevilly — ^particularly Passion et vertu, in 
which the heroine, who contains in embryo certain of 
Madame Bovary’s qualities, learns in Paris ‘tout ce qu’il y 
avait de large et d’immense dans le vice, et de voluptueux 
dans le crime’, and behaves like the most diabolical of the 
‘Diaboliques’.) Take for example the study of the 
courtesan Marie in Novembre-. she speaks with Flaubert’s 
own voice, she whose countless loves have left their traces 
upon her, stamping her with a ‘majesty voluptueuse’ : ‘la 
d^bauche la d^corait d’une beaut6 infernale’ : 

‘II y eut lors pour moi un mot qui sembla beau entre les mots 
humains: adultere, une douceur exquise plane vaguement sur lui, 
une magie singuliere I’embaume; toutes les histoires qu’on raconte, 
tous les livres qu’on lit, tous les gestes qu’on feit le disent et le 
commentent 6temellement pour le coeur du jeune homme, il s’en 
abreuve I. plaisir, il y trouve une po&ie supreme, mSlee de male- 
diction et de volupte.’ 

These were tastes which Flaubert had in common with 
the other Romantics, with Barbey d’Aurevilly, for in- 
stance, who, in his youthful Le Cachet d' onyx (i 83 i),i 5 ^ 
which was an anticipation of the Diaboliques^ had spoken 
of the ‘ddlices qu’il y a dans la trahison et dans I’adultfere’, 
and with Petrus Borel, who wrote in the introduction to 
Rhapsodies, ‘Heureusement que pour se consoler de tout 
cela il nous reste I’adultbrel’ In common with Borel, too, 
and with Gautier, Delacroix, and many others (it was, after 
all, the fashion), Flaubert also had a taste for the Orient, 
the lecherous, blood-stained Orient, and for the ancients 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 157 
^orld, full of immense vices and magnificent crimes. And 
just like Borel — ^who had exclaimed^^i ‘gj rfeve une 
existence, c’est chamelier au desert, c’est muletier andalou, 
c"est Otahitien* — Flaubert dreamed of being an Anda- 
lusian muleteer or a la%zarone at Naples or a postilion be- 
tween Rome and Marseilles, and his letters and early 
works have passages which might almost have been taken 
bodily from the letters of d’Albert in Mademoiselle de 

*Je n’ai pas dans ma vie un seal coin d’ombre oh m’abriter du 
soleil: je soufFre toutes les ardeurs de la passion sans en avoir les 
extases et les deices inefiablesj j’en connais les tourments, et n’en 
ai pas les plaisirs.’ 

‘Je suis aussi las que si j’avais execute toutes les prodigieusit^ 
de Sardanapale, et cependant ma vie a 6t6 fort chaste et tranquille 
en apparence: c’est une erreur de croire que la possession soit la 
seule route qui mfene k la satidtd On y arrive aussi par le d&ir, et 
Tabstinence use plus que Texcfe.’ 

*Je suis attaqu^ de cette maladie qui prend aux peuples et aux 
hommes puissants dans leur vieillesse: — Fimpossible. Tout ce que 
je peux faire n’a pas le moindre attrait pour moi. Tibfere, Caligula, 
Niron, grands Remains de Tempire, 6 vous que Fon a si mal com- 
pris, et que la meute des rh^teurs poursuit de ses aboiements, je 
souffre de votre mal et je vous plains de tout ce qui me reste de 
piti6! Moi aussi je voudrais bitir un pont sur la mer et paver les 
flotS 5 j’ai rfeve de bruler des villes pour illuminer mes fetes; j^ai 
souhaite €tre femme pour connaltre de nouvelles volupt&. — Ta 
maison dor^e, 6 Neron! n’est qu’une Stable fangeuse k c6t6 du 
palais que je me suis eleve; ma garde-robe est mieux montfe que 
la tienne, Heliogabale, et bien autrement splendide. — Mes cirques 
sont plus rugissants et plus sanglants que les votres, mes parfums 
plus icres et plus p6n^trants, mes esdaves plus nombreux et mieux 
faits; j’ai aussi attel6 k mon char des courtisanes nues, j’ai march^ 
sur les hommes d’un talon aussi d^daigneux que vous. — Colosses 
du monde antique, il bat sous mes faibles cotes un cceur aussi grand 
que le votre, e^ k votre place, ce que vous avez fait je Faurais fait 
et peut-Stre davantage. Que de Babels j’ai entassees les unes sur 
les autres pour atteindre le ciel, souffleter les ^toiles, et cracher de 
1^ sur la cr&tion ! Pourquoi done ne suis-je pas Dieu, — puisque je 
ne puis fetre homme ? Oh ! je crois qu’il laudra cent mille siedes de 
neant pour me reposer de la fatigue de ces vingt annees de vieF^^s 

Here one might be reading thcgueuladesofFlznhcrti but 




158 THE RumajniIC AGONY 

instead, the speaker is Gautier’s d’ Albert, a sort of Flaubert 
ante litteram who dreams of happiness in the form of an 
Arabian palace, where he sits motionless and silent beneath 
a magnificent baldaquin, using as a footstool the naked 
breast of a young slave-girl, and smoking opium in a great 
^ade pipe.^®+ 

In Flaubert these romantic tastes had a more corrosive 
quality and drew forth a new kind of virulence from the 
depths of his being. D’ Albert, for instance, says: 

‘J’ai perdu completement la science du bien et du mal Je 

verrais de sang-froid les scenes les plus atroces, et il y a dans les 
souffrances et dans les malheurs de I’humanitd quelque chose qui 
ne me d^latt pas. . , . 

‘Voilk oh se r^duisent toutes mes notions morales. Ce qui est 
beau physiquement est bien, tout ce qui est laid est mal. — Je ver- 
rais une belle femme, que je saurais avoir I’^me la plus sc^ldrate 
du monde, qui serait adultere et empoisonneuse, j’avoue que cela 
me serait parfaitement egal et ne m’empScherait nullement de m’y 
complaire, si je trouvais la forme de son nez convenable.’'** 

To Flaubert, on the other hand (and the same argument 
might be repeated in the case of Baudelaire), it would not 
be at all ‘parfaitement ^gal’ ; the woman’s baseness would 
be the principal cause of her charm, and the ‘scenes 
atroces’ would arouse more than the mere timid approval 
of Gautier. And so, while the worthy Th^ophile’s ideal 
country is a serenely shining pagan world, a Hellas made 
of gold, marble and purple, ‘6clat, solidity, couleur’ (‘Je 
suis un honune des temps homeriques . . for Flau- 
bert — ^who realizes quite sincerely ‘H61as non! je ne suis 
pas un homme antique; les hommes antiques n’avaient pas 
de maladies de nerfs comme moi!’^®^ — the ideal is a bar- 
baric and savage Orient, with gold, marble, and purple, 
certainly, but also wifir blood and corruption and horrible 
decays and miasmas. 

‘Oh! se sentir plier sur le dos des chameaux! devant soi un ciel 
tout rouge, un sable tout brun, Thorizon flamboyant qui s’allonge . . . 
le conducteur vient de finir sa chanson, on va, on va, etc. . . . Sudan . . . 
oh! allons toujours, je veux voir le Malabar furieux et ses danses 
oil Pm se tue\ les vins dmnmt la mart comme des poisons^ les poisons 
smt doux comme les vins; la mer, une mer bleue remplie de corail 
et de perles, retentit du bruit des orgies sacr&s qui se font dans les 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 159 
antres des montagnes, il n’y a plus de vague, I’atmosphere est ver- 
meille, le del sans nuage se mire dans le tiMe Ocdan, les cables 
fument quand on les retire de I’eau, les requins suhent le navire et 
mangent les morts'^^^ 

Both India and China are portrayed in the pages of 
Novemhre: side by side with enchanting scenes there are 
'glimpses of tigers seizing their prey, savages in canoes of 
which the prows are decorated with bloodstained scalps, 
poisoned arrows which bring an agonizing death, cannibal 
women . . . ; and the final conclusion is ‘Puiss^-je p6rir en 
doublant le Cap, mourir du cholera a Calcutta ou de la 
peste i Constantinople!’ 

In Gautier there is only a hint of this contrast, which 
was to become for Flaubert the supreme synthesis. 
Mademoiselle de Maupin says:*®® 

‘Dans ma frMe poitrine habitent ensemble les reveries sem^ 
de violettes de la jeune fille pudique et les ardeurs insensees des 
courtisanes en orgie: mes d&irs vont, comme les lions, aiguisant 
leurs griffes dans I’ombre et cherchant quelque chose k ddvorer. . . . 
C’est un 6trange pays que mon ime, un pays florissant et splendide 
en apparence, mais plus satur6 de miasmes putrides et d^leteres que 
le pays de Batavia: le moindre rayon de soleil sur la vase y feit 
dclore les reptiles et pulluler les moustiques; — les larges tulipes 
jaunes, les nagassaris et les fleurs d’angsoka y voilent pompeusement 
d’immondes charognes.’ 

Here one seems to be reading a metaphorical moralist 
such as Daniello Bartoli, rather than a vision of a 
‘jardin des supplices’, as were the majority of Flaubert’s 
visions. 

22. Being a ruthless self-analyst, Flaubert can scarcely 
have had any illusions as to the real significance of his 
longing to travel to strange and monstrous countries. It 
was a means of providing an outlet for the ‘fond noir a 
contenter’ which troubled him no less than it troubled 
Delacroix.*®® That indefatigable painter might well have 
repeated with Flaubert,*®* ‘J’aime mon travail d’un amour 
fr^n^tique et perverti, comme un ascfete le cilice qui lui 
gratte le ventre’, for their cases offer curious analogies. 
The following melancholy lines from Flaubert to Louise 
Colet, written at the end of October 1851,*®* afford a 



i6o THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

parallel to the confession of Delacroix which I have already 

quoted : 

‘Ce n’est pas un homme vieilli comme moi dans tous les exces de la 
solitude, nerveux k s’^vanouir, trouble de passions rentrees, plein de 
doutes du dedans et du dehors, ce n’est pas celui-la qu’il fallait 
aimer.’ 

Another letter to Louise Colet (July yth-Sth, 1853)173 
throws light on this ‘fond noir* and on certain impressions 
of childhood which may have first stirred it:i74 

La premiere fois que j’ai vu des fous, c’^tait ici, k I’hospice 
general, avec ce pauvre pere Parain. Dans les cellules, assises et 
attachees par le milieu du corps, nues jusqu’^ la ceinture et toutes 
echevel6es, une douzaine de femmes hurlaient et se d^chiraient la 
figure avec les ongles. 

‘J’avais peut-Stre k cette ^poque six k sept ansj ce sont de bonnes 
impressions k avoir jeune, elles virilisent; quels etranges souvenirs 
j’ai en ce genre! I’amphith^tre de I’Hotel-Dieu donnait sur notre 
jardinj que de fois, avec ma soeur, n’avons-nous pas grimp6 au 
treillage et, suspendus entre la vigne, regards curieusement les 
cadavres ^tal&: le soleil donnait dessus, les mSmes mouches qui 
voltigeaient sur nous et sur les fleurs allaient s’abattre Iky revenaient, 
bourdonnaient! . * 

*Quand on a son modele net, devant les yeux, on 6crit toujours 
bien, et oti done le vrai est-il plus dairement visible que dans ces 
belles expositions de la misere humaine? elles ont quelque chose 
de si cru que cela donne k I’esprit des appetits de cannibale. II se 
pr6cipite dessus pour les d^vorer, se les assimiler. . . . Comme j’ai b^ti 
des drames fSroces k la Morgue, oil j ’avais la rage d’aller autrefois. . . . 
Je crois du reste qu’k cet endroit j’ai une fecult^ de perception 
particuliere; en fait de malsain, je m’y connais. , . La folie et la 
Itmure sont deux chases que fat tellement sondiesy oil j^ai si bien 
navigui par ma volmtiy que je ne serai jamais (je respire) ni un 
aliini ni un de Bade, Mais il m^en a cuit par exemple, Ma maladie 
de nerfs a iti Pecume de ces petites facities intellectuelles}'^^ Chaque 
attaque ^tait comme une sorte d’hemorragie de I’innervation. 
C’teit des pertes seminales de la faculty pittoresque du cerveau, 
cent mille images sautant k la fois, en feux d’artifice.’ 

With the passage which is here given in italics may be 
compared a passage from another letter, to Mile Leroyer 
de Chantepie, dated May i8th, 1857:^76 

*En d’autres fois, je tichais, par I’imagination, de me donner 
facticement ces horribles souffrances. J’ai joue avec la d^mence 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS i6i 
et le fantastique comme Mithridate avec les poisons. Un grand 
orgueil me soutenait et j’ai vaincu le mal k force de I’etreindre 
corps k corps.’ 

The ‘fantastique’ (that is, delectatio morosa of the 
sadistic type) was, therefore, a sort of neuralgic area- 
round which Flaubert’s mind crystallized. Again, in 
Novembrei ^^7 

‘Toutes les passions entraient en moi et ne pouvaient en sortir, 
s’y trouvaient k I’etroits elles s’enflammaient les unes les autres, 
comme par des miroirs concentriques: modeste, j’etais plein d’or- 
gueil; vivant dans la solitude, je rfevais la gloirej retire du monde, 
je br^lais d’y paraltre, d’y briller; chaste, je m’abandonnais, dans 
mes r^ves du jour et de la nuit, aux luxures les plus effren^es, aux 
voluptes les plus feroces. Ma vie que je refoulais en moi-m^me 
se contractait au coeur et le serrait k r^touffer. , . . N’usant pas de 
Texistence, ^existence m’usait, mes r$ves me fetiguaient plus que 
de grands travaux.’ 

In the Tentation^ this situation is mirrored in the dia- 
logue between Hilarion and Antony: 

^Hilarion — Cette vie k I’^cart des autres est mauvaise. 

^Antoine — Au contraire! L’homme, ^tant esprit, doit se retirer 
des choses mortelles. Toute action le degrade. Je voudrais ne pas 
tenir k la terre, — meme par la plante des pieds! 

*HiL — Hypocrite qui s’enfonce dans la solitude pour se livrer 
mieux au d^bordement de ses convoitises! Tu te prives de viandes, 
de vin, d’^tuves, d’esclaves et d’honneursj mais comme tu kisses ton 
imagination t’offrir des banquets, des parfums, des femmes nues et 
des foules applaudissantes! Ta chastet^ n’est qu’une cor^xption plus 
subtile, et ce mepris du monde I’impuissance de ta haine contre lui. . . . 

^Ant {klateen sanghts) — ^Assezlassez! turemuestropmon coeur!’ 

Here again Baudelaire’s observation is to the point: 
‘Quant 1 I’ardeur avec laquelle il travaille souvent dans 
rhorrible . . .’^78 

Flaubert defended himself very feebly against Sainte- 
Beuve’s allusion to the ‘pointe d’ima^ination sadiqueV^o 
and Dumesnil, taking this defence literally, said^^o that 
Flaubert ‘se piquait pour la galerie d’une pointe de sadisme’, 
that he ‘prdtendait admirer prodigieusement le divin Mar- 
quis’, but that it was simply a matter of pose and of hmtade. 
On the other hand, from the passages I have just quoted 

M 



i 62 the romantic AGONY 

there is clear evidence that sadism was by no means only a 
superficial tendency in Flaubert's temperament, but rather 
an inseparable part of the very nucleus of his inspirations 

In an early letter (to E. Chevalier, July 15th, 1839)182 
Flaubert wrote: 

‘Lacenaire, qui faisait de la philosophie aussi k sa maniere, et 
une drole, une profonde, une amere de philosophie! quelle legon il 
donnait k la morale, comme il la fessait en public, cette pauvre prude 
s6chee, comme il lui a porte de bons coups, comme il Ta trainee 
dans la boue, dans le sang. J’aime bien k voir des hommes comme 
9a, comme N6ron, comme le Marquis de Sade. . . . Ces monstres-lk 
expHquent pour moi I’histoire, ils en sent le complement, Tapogee, 
la morale, le dessert; crois-moi, ce sont de grands hommes, des 
immortels aussi. Neron vivra aussi longtemps que Vespasien, Satan 
que J&us-Christ.’ 

and in the first version of the 'E^ducatton sentimentalex^^^ 

‘Jules alia jusqu’au bout, jusqu’k la fin; il passa par la sensuality 
ytroite de Faublas . . . il lui prefera cent fois les monstruosites de 
Justine^ cette oeuvre belle k force d’horreur, oti le crime vous 
regarde en face et vous ricane au visage, ecartant ses gencives 
aiguSs et vous tendant les bras; il descendit dans ces profondeurs 
t^nybreuses de la nature humaine, prSta Toreille k tous ces riles, 
assista k ces convulsions et n’eut pas peur, Et puis la poesie n’est- 
elle pas partout — si elle est quelque part. — Celui qui la porte en 
lui la verra sur le monde, pareille aux fleurs, qui poussent sur le 
marbre des tombeaux et sur les plus fraiches pelouses; elle s'exhale 
vers vous du coeur de la vierge et du sommeil de Penfant, comme 
de la planche des ychafauds et de la lumifere des incendies.' 

On the subject of Byron, the reading of whose poems 
had so much excited him in his youth, Flaubert wrote: ^84 

‘Il ne croyait k rien, si ce n’est k tous les vices, k un Dieu vivant, 
existant pour le plaisir de faire le mal.’ 

The teaching of Sade fitted in with that of Byron, for 
Flaubert also — Volupte du crime', ‘joies de la corrup- 
tion',^85 ‘le sublime ci'en bas'.i 86 These two writers were 
/me greatest sources of inspiration for the moderns, said 
Sainte-Beuve, in 1 843 ; and even if, in 1 843, Sade was still 
described as a ‘secret’ source of inspiration, he became less 
arid less so during the years which followed* If Sainte- 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 163 
Beuve had been writing at the end of the century he would 
have had no need to give the warning ‘Ne perdez jamais 
cette dernifere clef’. For this key, which might have 
escaped the inattentive eye of 1843, by then become 
fully evident, ‘more than papal’, 187 to the eyes of all. The 
majority, however, preferred to shut their eyes. 

23. As cul-de-lampe to this chapter may be quoted a 
late but extreme case of cannibalistic Byronism, which the 
words of Auger, related at the end of the preceding 
chapter, would have fitted amazingly well.^8* The case is 
that of the Chants de Maldoror^ written (in 1868) under the 
pseudonym of ‘Comte de Lautr^mont’^se by that ‘poete 
maudit’ Isidore Ducasse, who was born at Montevideo in 
1846.19° In a letter written in 1870 Ducasspj^hom the \ 
Surrealists have hailed as a forerunner of themselves, 
defined his prose poems as follows: ‘Quelque chose dans 
le genre du Manfred de Byron et du Konrad de Mickie- 
wicz, mais, cependant, bien plus terrible.’ And in another 
letter, in 1869, he made a profession of faith similar to 
that of Baudelaire: 

*J’ai chant6 le mal comma ont fait Mickiewicz, Byron, Milton, 
Southey, A. de Musset, Baudelaire, etc Naturellement, j’ai un peu 
exagere le diapason pour faire du nouveau dans le sens de cette 
littdrature sublime qui ne chante le d&espoir que pour opprimer le 
lecteur, et lui feire ddsirer le bien comma rembde.’ 

With sinister humour (a remote inheritance from 
Byron’s Don Juan) and with absurdities worthy of Bur- 
chiello, Ducasse relates in minute detail his homosexual 
and sadistic fantasies, * 9 * inveighing against the Creator. 
‘Ces plaisanteries nerveuses ne sont pas sans p6ril, et on 
peut souvent les payer cher’ — Baudelaire, who knew a 
good deal about the macabre-grotesque, had remarked. 
Ducasse, the description of whom has come down to us as 
of a strange being of strange habits, died mysteriously at 
the age of twenty-four. 

Among the many and various writers, great or less 
great, whose names have been introduced in order to ex- 
plain Lautrdamont’s particular type of genius, I do not 
find recorded the one who, in my opinion, displays the 
most noteworthy affinities with him — ^Pdtrus Borel. A 



i 64 the romantic AGONY 

lycanthrope in the manner of Borel, a macabre humorist 
in whom it is impossible to distinguish where sincerity 
ends and mystification begins, ^93 Lautr^mont justifies his 
Muse in these words: 

‘Moi,je faisservirmon g^nieJipeindre les d61ices de la cruaut6! . . . 
Le g^nie ne peut-il pas s’allier avec la cruaute dans les resolutions 
secrkes de la Providence?’ 



NOTES TO CHAPTER III 

* In his essay on the Novella della Jiglia del re di Dacia (Pisa, Nistri, 
1866, p. xi) Wesselowsky says; ‘Among the symbolic types in wHch the 
medieval imagination delighted there was none which was more sympa- 
thetic or enjoyed greater popularity than that of the persecuted maiden . . , 
Crescenzia and Uliva, Genovefe and Hirlanda, Florencia and Santa 
Guglielma, the daughter of the King of Dacia and the Queen of Poland, 
Cinderella and Marion de Bosch in the Piedmontese tale — all these were 
varieties of the same type.’ Wesselowsky traces the type to a cosmogonic 
myth. For a modem treatment of the legend of Santa Uliva, see p. 282 
of this book, note 95. 

2 Clarissa Harlotoe^ vol. v. Letter xxxxiv (ed. Leslie Stephen, 
London, 1883). 

3 At this point the author remarks; 

*Mr. Belford’s objection. That virtue ought not to suffer in a tragedy, is not 
well considered: Monimia in the Orphan, Belvidera in Venice Preserved, Athe- 
nais in Theodosius, Cordelia in Shakwpeare’s King Lear, Desdemona in Othello, 
Hamlet (to name no more), are instances that a tragedy could hardly be justly 
s/ called a tragedy, if virtue did not temporarily suffer, and vice for a while triumph. 
But he recovers himself in the same paragraph; and leads us to look up to the 
FUTURE for the reward of virtue, and for the punishment of guilt: and observes 
not amiss, when he says. He knows not but that the virtue of such a woman as 
Clarissa is rewarded in missing such a man as Lovelace.* 

^ Vol. V, Letter cii. 

3 Vol. V, Letter xxxviii. 

* For the points of resemblance between the heroine of Faust and 
Richardson’s Clarissa and Pamela, see Reynaud’s volume already quoted, 
pp. 172-3. 

7 Vol. ii. Letter vii. 

* £loge de Richardson^ in CEuvres computes^ dd. Assdzat et Toumeux 
(Paris, Gamier, 1875-9), ^ol. v, p. 225. 

^ Reynaud, op. cit., p. 69. Reynaud, however, exaggerates when he 
maintains that ‘la libertd de certains passages de ces romans “moraux” est 
inimitable’. 

See (Euvres completes^ vol. v, pp. 177-8. 

Reynaud, op. cit., p. 93. Cf. the words of Diderot in the £loge^ op. cit., 
p. 22 1 ; ‘Plusieurs fois j’ai commencd la lecture de Clarisse pour me former’. 

On the development of these ideas see the two first chapters of 
Reynaud’s book already quoted, especially pp. 56-7 and 94; the book is 
well informed, but must be read with caution because of its tendencious- 
ness. Reynaud’s theory is that Romanticism represents an Anglo-Germanic 
Impurity in the pure French literary tradition. But does a ‘pure’ French 
literary tradition exist? That same French theatre, in which Reynaud 
sees the palladium of this tradition, might easily, if approached from a 
different point of view, be classed as an impurity brought about by the 
Italian criticism of the Renaissance (Castelvetro). 



i66 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

13 Juliette^ ed. 1797, vol. ii, p. 127; also Justine, vol. ii, p. iii. 

Lettres inidites du Frisident de Brasses d Ch. C* Loppin de Germeaux 
(Paris, Firmin-Didot, 1929), p. 234, Letter of Feb. 24th, 1749 - 

*5 Juhette, vol. iii, p. 90. 

In his projected novel, 7 he Life of a Great Sinner, Dostoievsky 
intended to give an important place to the teaching of Thdrise philosophe. 
The principal character was to have owed his degeneration to the reading 
of it. Even the saintly bishop Tikhon, who considered himself, at his age, 
to be free from temptations, was troubled by Thdrhe, E. Halp^rine- 
Kaminsky in his commentary {La Confession de Stavroguine, Paris, 1922), 
not knowing that Thirese phtlosophe was a book, and being unable, from 
Dostoievsky’s summary notes, to discover that it was, imagined that he 
was dealing with a real person and made the very awkward remark; 

‘II n est fait, pr^c^demment, qu*une seule fois une obscure allusion k Th^r^se 
Philosophe (feuille 16 ) oh il est question du gamin quelle corrige et auquel 
elle confisque un livre [?]. Sans doute avait-eUe jou6 un r61e dans I’^ducauon 
de renfant*. 

Cf. Goncourt, Journal, vol. iii, p. 190 (Feb. 8th, 1868), where he 
is dealing with the life of Gavarni; 

‘Quel chasseur de femmes I . . . Et queiquefois, je ne sais quoi de noir et de 
machiav61ique, une mechancet^ de Liaisons dangereuses, curieuse d*exp6riences 
cruelles, un jeu amer avec les faiblesses de la femme*. 

Madame de Merteuil, of whom Valmont is an imperfect pupil, may be 
considered as the forerunner of those who treated love as an intellectual 
problem, as a field for interesting experiments — Stendhal’s Julien Sorel, 
the Seducer of S. Kierkegaard, the Disciple of Bourget, and in certain 
respects Maurice Barr^s and Andrd Gide (of the latter see especially Les 
Faux-monnayeurs ) . 

Lettre clxxi. 

^9 Lettre cvn. Valmont, too (Lettre cx), quotes Clarissas 

*La difficult^ ne serait pas de m’introduire chez elle, mtoe la nuit, m6me encore 
de Tendormir et d*en faire une nouvelle Clarisse*. 

20 CEuvres posthumes, p. 176 et seq. 

On the subject of the widespread diiSusion of this desire for profana- 
tion during the eighteenth century, cf. Monglond, op. cit., vol. i, p. 201. 

Baudelaire might well have taken from the same letter also a passage 
which refers to Madame de Tourvel: ‘Non, elle n’aura pas les plaisirs du 
vice et les konneurs de la vertu, Ce n’est pas assez pour moi de la possMer, 
je veux qu’elle se livre’. Here the phrase in italics, taken from the Nouvelle 
Hiloise (Premiere Partie, Lettre IX: ‘les plaisirs du vice et i’honneur de 
la vertu’) might well be the point of departure for the twin titles of Sade’s 
volumes. 

23 Of course, if things are thus according to the logical issue of the theory, 
the inverse process is true on the psychological plane. That is to say, Sade’s 
Satanic theory is merely a proj ection of his sexual attitude. E. de Goncourt 
remarked, apropos of Justine {Journal, vol. vi, p. 334): 

‘L’originalite de rabominable livre, eUe n’est pas pour moi dans Tordure, la 



THE SHADOW OF TH^ DIVINE MARQUIS 167 

cochonnerie feroce, ie la txouve dans la punition celeste de la vertu, c’est-a-dire 
dans le contrepied diaboiique des denouements de tous ies romans et de toutes 
les pieces de theatre’, 

24 Juliette^ vol. ii, pp. 341-50. 

25 Justine^ vol. i, pp. 95-6. Also p. 322. 

26 Juktne, vol. ii, p. 249, 

27 Justiney vol. 1, pp. 216-21. 

28 Juliettey vol. li, p. 347. 

29 Justiney vol. i, p. 299. 

30 Justiney vol. hi, p. 117. 

31 Justiney vol. i, pp. 3-4. 

32 The first editions of the two works were published in 1791 and 1796 
respectively. The definitive and complete edition was published in 1797, 
‘en HoUande’, with the title: La nouvelle Justine, ou ies tnalheurs de la 
vertu (4 vols.), suime de Vhistoire de Juliette, sa sceur, ou les prosperitds du 
vice (6 vols.). The first version oL Justine has been re-exhumed by M. 
Heine: Les Inf or tunes de la vertu, texte etabli sur le manuscrit original 
autographe et public pour la premiere fois avec une introduction par 
Maurice Heine (Paris, Editions Fourcade, 1930). A critical edition of 
Justine was announced as in preparation by the Societe du Roman philo- 
sophique.* 

33 Justine, vol. i, p. 106. 

34 Juliette, vol. iii, p. 12. 

35 Juliette, vol. ii, p. 63. 

36 Le Temps retrouvi, vol. i, p. 182. 

37 Justine, vol. iv, pp. 40-1. 

38 Justine, vol. i, p. 112. 

39 Juliette, vol. vi, p. 346. In the original plan of Justine as made out 
by Heine (op. cit., pp. xviii-xix), the incident of the striking by lightning 
was treated in a very different, and quite conventional, manner. In this 
version Justine’s sister exclaims: 

*Ceci est trop fort et trop singulier, il h’est pas naturel que la providence 
punisse aussi cruellement et avec aussi peu de justice un Stre qui ne servit jamais 
que la vertu; ?a ne m’en impose pas, c’est indirectement que la colfere du ciel me 
frappe, et c’est k moi que tous ces coups s’adressent, a moi seuie qui ies ai merites. 

*Et sur cela elle quitte le monde et son amant et va finir ses jours dans un 
couvent apr^s avoir donn^ tout ce qu’eile avait aux pauvres et y meurt fort 
le modHe et I’exemple de la maison.’ 

It is obvious that, at the time of this version, Sade was anxious, no less 
than Laclos, to give an impression of the honest intention of his work. 
Later, with the relaxation of morals under the Directoire, he considered it 
possible to express himself freely. 

One can easily imagine the compunction with which Sade wrote, in 
the introduction to the version published by Heine (p. 14): 

‘Cette prosp^rit^ du crime n’est qu’apparente; independamment de la pro- 
vidence qui doit necessairement punir de t^ succ^s, le coupabie nourrit au fond 
de son cceur un ver qui le rongeant sans cesse, I’emp^che de jouir de cette iueur 



t68 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

de fSlicit^ qui Tenvironne et ne lui laisse au lieu d’elle que le souvenir d^chirant 
des crimes qui la lui ont acquise. A Tegard du malheur qui tourmente la vertu, 
rinfortun^ que le sort persecute a pour consolation sa conscience, et les jouis- 
sances secretes qu’il retire de sa puret6 le d^dommagent bientdt de I’injustice des 
hommes.* 

Richardson could not have put it better. 

See especially Le Fant 6 me\ cf. chap, v, § 19. 

Juliette j vol. i, p. 160. 

Justine j vol. iv, p. 191. 

43 Justine^ vol. iii, p. 306. 

44 Juliette 9 vol. ii, p. 318.* 

45 Juliette^ vol. iv, p. 79. 

4 ^ See on this subject the Correspondance inidite du Marquis de Sade^ 
edited by P. Bourdin (Pans, Librairie de France, 1929).* 

47 Le Paysan perverti, quoted by Monglond, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 326. 
The well-known fetichism of Restif for the feet and shoes of women 
is considered by psycho-pathologists to be a vicarious form of masochism.* 

48 On this subject see Maigron, op. dt., pp. 259 et seq., 381, 387. 

49 Sainte-Beuve writes about this in Chateaubriand et son groupe^ op. cit., 
p. 96 note. 

<Une question qu’on voudrait lepousser se glisse malgr^ nous; Rene est bien 
Ren6, Amdie est bien Lucile [Chateaubriand’s beloved sister]; qu*est-ce done? 
et qu’y a-t-il eu de r^el au fond dans le reste du myst^re? Po^te, comment 
donner k deviner de telles situations, si elles ont eu quelque chose de vrai? Com- 
ment les donner k supposer, si elles sont un rSve?* 

See also the remark of Monglond, vol. i, p. 258, quoted here in chap, ii, 
note 43. 

89 Sainte-Beuve, op. cit., vol, i, p. 197. Judging society from the point 
of view of a state of nature Chateaubriand makes his character Chactas 
say {Les Natchez, ed. dt., p. 264) ‘Les gaHriens et les femmes comme toi 
[courtesans like Ninon de Lendos] me semblent avoir toute la sagesse de 
ta nation*. This sentence seems to contain an echo of Restif and an antid- 
pation of Sue. 

51 Chateaubriand loves to dwell upon spectades in which beauty is 
associated with death. A beautiful young woman, for example, holds in 

^her hand a skull {Les Natchez, p. 368): 

‘Mila . . . echaufFait contre son sein I’effigie pMe et glac6e: les beaux cheveux 
de la jeune fille ombrageaient en tombant le front chauve de la mort. Avec 
ses joues color^s, ses l^vres vermeilles, les graces de son adolescence, Mila res- 
semblait k ces roses de I’^glantier qui croissent dans les dmeti^res champStres 
et qui penchent leurs tttes sur la tombe.’^ 

52 On the subject of Ren^ Sainte-Beuve says (op. dt., vol. i, p. 3 86 note) : 
‘Ce Jupiter se plaisait k consumer toutes les Sdmel^s.* He repeats also the 
vivid and very just figure of speech used by Chenedoll6: ‘Dans Rend 
Chateaubriand a cache le poison dans Pid6e rdigieuse; c*est empoisonner 
dans une hostie,* On the ‘mechancete dans ramour* in Chateaubriand see 



THE SHADOW OF ThIi DIVINE MARQUIS 169 
also chapter vi (*La Splendeur du faux’) of Book II in the second part of Le 
'Romantisme frangah by Pierre Lasserre (Paris, Mercure de France, 1907).* 

5 3 Gretchen’s tragedy is the supreme artistic expression of a theme dear 

jto the ‘Stiirmer und Danger’, the theme of the seduced girl abandoned 
to her sad destiny by tEe?ather of her child. Cf. for instance Jakob Lenz^s 
dramas Der Hofmeister^ Die Boldaten^ and the story Zerhin, In this latter 
the victim, Marie, the infanticide, ‘stood erect on the scalFold like one of 
those early Christian martyrs who, for love of their faith, faced shame and 
death with composure’. The theme of the persecuted woman crops up 
at intervals throughout the nineteenth century. Hawthorne’s The Bcariet 
Letter, Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, J. S. Le Fanu’s Uncle Stlas, 
Hardy’s Tess of the jD’ Urhervilles contain remote but still recognizable 
echoes of it. On the subject of Collins’s novels Swinburne observed (Studies 
in Prose and Poetry, 1894): ^ 

‘And the suggested or implied suffering of su<di poor innocent wretches, the 
martyrdom of perpetual terror and agony inflicted on the shattered nerves or 
the shaken brain of a woman or a girl, is surely a cruel and a painful mainspring 
Tor a story or a plot.* 

Railo (op. cit., pp. 280-1) is the only writer to point out the sexual ab- 
normality that the subject seems to suggest. 

54 Among the antecedents of this situation may be quoted a novel 
printed at The Hague in 1739, entitled Intrigues monastiques ou P Amour 
encapuchonni, in which a confessor dishonours and then murders a girl, 
and also Les Fictimes cioitries, a play by Monvel (i 79 i)» in which a 
wicked priest, Pere Laurent, has a young girl, Eugenie, whom he is desirous 
of raping, shut up in a convent. Lewis knew this play, as is evident from a 
letter to his mother, dated Sept, 7th, 1791 — z. letter which shows him as a 
passionate admirer of the French revolutionary theatre. He speaks of 
‘at least twenty French operas, which, if translated, would undoubtedly 
succeed’. Among these he mentions, Camille, ou le Souierrain, by Mar- 
soUier, ‘where a woman is hid in a cavern in her jealous husband’s house; 
and afterwards, by accident, her child is shut up there also, without food, 
and they are not released till they are perishing with hunger’. Les Fictimes 
cloitries ‘is another which would undoubtedly succeed’. See Railo, op. 
cit., pp. 85 and 89. The situation described in Le Souterrain is derived 
pom Mrs. Radclifle’s Sictlia nJSsmance, See also E. Est^ve, Aiudes de 
littirature priromantiqm (Faris, 1923, pp. 1 13-19). Lewis adapted 
Monvel’s drama for the stage, in Fenoni, or the Novice of St, MarFs (1808) 
(Railo, pp. 124-5). possible that Mrs. Radcliffe also went to Les 
Fictimes cloitries for the plot of The Italian (Railo, p. 355 > ^aote 151)- 
In the story of the hermit Barsisa which appeared in No. 148 of the Quar-^ 
dian in 1713, and which is given by Lewis as his source, Satan, alarmed 
at the excessive holiness of Barsisa, sends him the daughter of a king to heal, 
and thus tempts him, first to sin, and then to kill his victim, Barsisa is 
arrested; in his danger he acknowledges Satan as his god, and Satan in 
return promises to save him, but betrays him.* 

ss Connected with the story of Agnes is that of the Bleeding Nun, which 
was to have such a success among the Romantics. The Bleeding Nun was 



170 THE ROM^TIC AGONY 

the ghost of a woman who was forced by her parents to become a nun, 
but who did not resist the impulses of her own ‘warm and voluptuous 
character’ and abandoned herself to all sorts of excesses, committed murder, 
and was herself murdered. This is a type which is found in Manzoni’s 
Nun of Monza, who, however, was inspired by Ripamonti and by the 
MSmoires pour sermr a Phistotre de Port-Royai et d la vie de la Rivirende 
Mere Marie-Angihque de Satnte-Madeleine Jrnauld, Utrecht, 174.2 (see 
P. P. Trompeo, Col Manxoni tra Monza e Port-Royal, in Rilegature 
Giansemste, Milano-Roma, La Cultura, 1930). The vicissitudes of the 
forced monastic vow were very popular with the free-thinkers of the 
eighteenth century; the subject provided plots for several plays (at least 
five between 1790 and 1796), as well as for Diderot’s Religieuse which, 
though written in 1760, was not published until 1796, and therefore 
could not have had any influence on the ‘monastic’ theatre (see Est^ve, 
£tudes cit., p. 90, note 4). See also note 72 of this chapter. 

5 ^ Cf. Justine, vol. vi, p. 138, where the dungeons of a scandalous 
convent are mentioned: ‘Quelquefois on vous enchaine dans ces cachots; 
on y place avec vous des rats, des lezards, des crapauds, des serpents, &c’. 

57 Cf. G. O. Arlt, ‘A Source of Grillparzer’s Ahnfrau\ in Modern 
jPhilology, vol. xxix, no. i (Aug. 1931). pp. 91-100. 

See F. Baldensperger, ^Le Moine de Lewis dans la litterature frangaise 
in Jou^l of Comparative Literature, vol. i, no. 3 (July-Sept. 1903) 
'^p. 201-19; also Est^ve, £tudes, ed. cit., pp. 127-9; Railo, op. cit., 
chap, iv; G. Bortone, Fra tl Voto e PAmore; note crittche sul Monaco del 
Lewis, sul Templaro dello Scott, sulP Arcidiacono delP Hugo, sulP Abate 
dello Zola, sullo Scorpione del Prhost (Naples, Detken e RochoU, 1908). 
Bortone’s essay, though of little importance, nevertheless points out very 
justly how much Hugo derived from the story of Ivanhoe (pp. 81-2). 

59 Precedents can be found for many of the situations in the ‘tales of 
terror’. For example, in the Comtesse d'Alibre, by Loaisel de Tr^ogate 
(The Hague and Paris, 1779), the sinister count throws his unfaithful 
wife and her bastard into an underground dungeon; both succumb, the 
wife after opening her veins to nourish the dying child. See Mornet, 
op. cit.. Premiere Partie, chap. iii. 

The popularity of Mrs. Radcliffe’s romance explains how it was that 
certain situations in the Promessi Sposi turned out remarkably like those 
oidJPbe Italian, Mai^ojd was such a diligent reader of the ‘tales of terror’ 
that in his youth he ^nned to write a ‘romanzo fantastico’, according to 
his stepson Stampa {Alessandro Manzoni, la sua famiglia, i suoi amici, 
Milan, 1885-9, vol. ii, p. 183). Manzoni’s masterpiece is like a magni- 
ficent garment thrown over a mannered and worn-out lay figure. Another 
Italian novelist, F. D. Guerraz^i/also came strongly under the influence 
>of Mrs. Radcliife (see chap, iv, note 80) 

The Greek novel, in fact, had anticipated the ‘tale of terror’ even in 
the type of its inddents. In the BafivXwvtaKa of lamblichus (2nd century 
B.c.) King Garmos, having fallen in love vrith the beautiful Sinonis, binds 
her in chins of gold and has her lover Rhodanes crucified. However, the 



THE SHADOW OF Tuk DIVINE MARQUIS 171 

lovers contrive to get free and fly from their persecutors, pretending to 
be ghosts; there follows a series of extraordinary scenes among tombs, in 
caverns, in robbers’ dens, until finally Rhodanes, nominated as a general 
of King Garmos, defeats the King of Syria and wins Sinonis, 

The Cenct, Act iv, sc. i 

63 Cf. this with Juliette^ vol. ii, p. 93: Saint-Fond ‘sodomise’ his own 
daughter in the presence of his father whom he has poisoned, and exclaims: 

‘Quelle jouissance pour moi ! J’etais convert de maledictions, d’imprecations, 
je parricidais, j’incestais, j’assassinais, je prostituais, je sodomisaisT 

^ The Cenci, Act iv, sc. i. 

65 The Cenci, Act iii, sc. i.* 

Prose Works, ed. H. Buxton Forman, vol. iv, p. 143.* 

67 See Railo, op. cit., pp. 276 et seq.; also notes 43 and 49 to chap, ii of 
the present volume. 

Vol. ii, p. 62 of the 1892 London edition (R. Bentley and Son). 
Sade’s explanation of this phenomenon may be found in a note to 
vol. iv of Justinei 

‘Nos places publiques ne sont-elles pas remplies chaque fois que Ton y assassine 
juridiquement? Ce qu’il y a de fort singulier c’est qu’elles le sont presque toujours 
par des femmes; elles ont plus de penchants que nous ^ la cruaut6 et cela parce 
qu*elles ont Torganisation plus sensible. Voik ce que les sots n*entendent pas.’ 

70 Vol. ii, p. 309. 

71 Vol. ii, p. 243. 

72 The story of Alonzo de Mon9ada as told in The Tale of the Spaniard is 
copied from that of Marie-Suzanne Simonin in the convent of Longchamp. 
Alonzo is destined by his parents for the cloister because of his irregular 
birth; Suzanne because she is the child of an adulterous union. Both 
resist the will of their parents, both are inveigled and threatened by 
priests in the same way and finally yield, after a moving scene with their 
respective mothers. Both seek an annulment of their vows from the civil 
tribunal, and make use of the same stratagem to obtain the paper on which 
to write their petition. They suffer the same cruel persecutions, are 
examined, as being possessed of an evil spirit, by a special ecclesiastical 
commission, and found innocent; but they lose their cases, and^ for the 
same reason. All these incidents, as well as many secondary details, were 
taken by Maturin from the Religieuse, often with the same words, and 
always with exaggerations and amplifications for the purpose of ‘darkening 
the gloomy’ and ‘deepening the sad’, as was the usual practice of this anti- 
Catholic and ‘terrible’ writer- A more detailed analysis of the relation 
between the two works was given by me in The Review of English Studies 
of Oct. 1930. Any one who wishes to examine some of the passages in 
which Maturin’s imitation really becomes plagiarism, should compare 
pp. 284 et seq. of vol. i of Melmoth with pp. 80 et seq. of the Religieuse, 
in (Euvres completes, ed. cit., vol, v (the episode of the visit of the bishop 
is the counterpart of the visit of the ‘grand vicaire’ in Diderot). The 
episode of the imprisonment in the dungeons of the Inquisition, of the 



172 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

escape and tKe taking refuge in the Jew’s house derives partly from God- 
win’s 5 /. Leon\ see N. Idman, Charles Robert Maturin^his Life and Works{a 
(Helsingfors, Centraltryckeri, and London, Constable, 1923), 
pp. 230-1. For the analogies between The Tale of the Indians and laust^ 
see W. Mtiller, Ch* Rob. Maturings Romane ‘ The Fatal Revenge* und^Melmoth 
the Wanderer\ Ein Beitragxur Gothic Romance (Weida, 1908), pp. 98-9.* 

73 Vol. iii, p. 120. Vol. i, p. 179. 

75 See A. M. Killen, Le Roman Uerrifant* ou roman ^noir* de Walpole h 
Anne Radcliffe et son influence sur la littirature frangaise jusqu*en 1840 
(Paris, Champion, 1915, in the Biblioth^ue de k ‘Revue de Litt^rature 
Compar^e’.) 

76 See R. W. Hartland, Walter Scott et le roman frdnltique*: contribu- 
tion a Vitude de leur fortune en France (Paris, Champion, 1928, in the 
Biblioth^ue quoted above); especially chap. iv. 

77 See N. Atkinson, Eugbne Sue et le romanfeuilleton, thhse (Nemours, 
Imprimerie Andre Lesot, 1929). 

78 For the pedigree of Han, see Hartland, op. cit., pp. 168^ et seq. 

79 Vol. ziv, p. 529. 

89 See R. Barbiera, La Principessa Belgiojoso (Milan, Treves, 1902), 
pp. 324, et seq., pp. 115 et seq. Cf. also pp. 244, 281, and 397-8 of the 
present volume. The oddities of the Princess were not due to a mere pose; 
she was, as Tommaseo said, ‘a cracked vessel’, and suffered from profound 
nervous disorders (epilepsy). An anecdote which is characteristic, but which 
should be accepted with reserve, may be read in Souvenirs du Marquis de 
Floranges^ published by M. Boulenger (Paris, Ollendorff, 1906), p. 78, and 
quoted by A. Augustin-Thierry, UneHiroIneromantiqueAa Princesse Belgio- 
joso (Paris, Plon, 1926), p. 20, note. See also this ktter book for her rela- 
tions with Stelzi, upon which the Princess’s letters to AugustinThierry throw 
light: pp. 52, 53, 59, 109, 110,120, 122, 134, 141, 148-52. In the letter 
from Locate dated June 1848, the Princess tdls of Stelzi’s death and says: 

* Je Fai apport6 ici, dans un tombeau qui est dans Tenceinte m6me de ma maison, 
de fagon que Mrs, Parker et moi, nous avons k triste satisfaction de Tomer de 
fleurs et d entretenir ce lieu comme une chambre plutdt que comme un s^pulcre.’ 

The necrophilistic episode of the Princess Belgiojoso is reminiscent not 
only of Stendhal (the conclusion of Le Rouge et le Noir, when Mathilde ‘avait 
pkce sur une petite table de marbre, devant elle, k tete de Julien, et k 
baisait au front’ — the head which was afterwards buried in a grotto among 
the mountains, sumptuously decorated), but also of the end of Rachilde’s 
Monsieur Vinus (cf, pp, 332 et seq. in the present volume): Raoule keeps 
in her house a wax statue which represents her dead lover, of which certain 
parts (teeth, nails, and hair) were actually taken from the corpse. 

8 x Les Confessions j souvenirs d*un demi-sikle, X830--X880 (Paris, Dentu, 
1885), vol. iv, p. 339. Houssaye, in dedicating to Janin (in 1872) Le 
Chien perdu et la femme fusillie^ a novel obviously inspired by VAne mort, 
said of the ktter: 

*C’^tait un livre unmortel; vous ne le saviez pas: ainsi va le g^nie humain. Vol- 



THE SHADOW OF THil DIVINE MARQUIS 173 

taire ne croyait ^crire qu’une ^minerie en ecrivant Cmdide\ Fabbe Prevost ne 
signait Manon Lescaut inquietude’. 

Houssaye places the scene of his novel in the Paris of the Commune: there 
is a woman who stabs herself like Lucretia and another who falls riddled 
with bullets * • . but they both of them revive, the second, however, only 
to throw herself finally into the sea after the ship which carries her lover 
to exile has disappeared. This Angdline Duportail is a superficial reflection 
of various Romantic cUchis^ as is shovm farther on in the present study: 

*Je ne sais pas si elle ^tait n6s pour ie bien, mais eile faisait le mal avec une fort 
jolie desinvolture. Pour qu’elle ffit contente dans sa vie passionn^e et passion- 
nante, il failait qu’elle fit souffrir son monde, elle aimait les larmes— celles des 
autres. Tous les desastres plaisaient k son kme. Elle comprenait Neron jouant 
du luth sur Rome incendi^. Mais Heiiogabale et Tibfere n’^taient pas ses 
hommes; ce qu’elle aimait, c’etait le massacre des sentiments.’* 

8^ The quotations from VAne mart are taken from the text of 1829.' 
Later the author introduced considerable modifications into the style of 
the book and omitted the second part of the title. See the preface to the 
1841 edition. 

*3 In Honestus (1831) Janin carried this paradox even farther, showing 
how a fanatical young man’s propaganda for virtue brought about such 
desolation and such apathy in the world, that there was nothing for the 
rash man to do but re-establish vice in order to restore to men their alacrity 
and happiness. Cf. Sade, Juliette^ vol. i, p. 343 : 

‘Ce n’est qu’k force de mal que la Nature reussit k faire le bien; ce n’est qu’k 
force de crimes qu’elle existe, et tout serait d^truit si la vertu seule habitait k terre.* 

84 It is curious that De Quincey, in the ‘Society for the Encouragement 
Jof Murder’, should afford a humoristic parallel to Sade’s ‘Societe des Amis 
du Crime’ (Juhetti). But De Quincey’s humoristic evasion did not free 
him from his obsession, if it is true that, in his old age, he always showed a 
morbid interest in certain criminal trials.* 

8s Barnave (1831), chap. xiv. Gautier derived from this passage in 
his preface to Mademoiselle ie Maupin (cf. R. Jasinsld, Les Annies romaU’- 
tiques de Tk. Gautier^ Paris, Vuibert, 1929, pp. 214-1 5) and in the Voyage 
d^Bspagne, where, speaking of bull-fights, he says that the situation of the 
matador face to face with the bull ‘vaut tous les drames de Shakespeare’. 

8 ^ Le Neveu de Rameaui 

*Je commensals k supporter avec peine le presence d’un bomme qui discutait 
une action horrible, un execrable forfait, comme un connaisseur en peinture 
ou en po^sie examine les beaut^s d’un ouvrage de gofit’. 

87 It is to this episode that Baudelaire refers in his Choix de maximes 
consolantes sur V amour ^ in CEuvres posthumes^ op. cit., p. 359. See also 
below, in the text, § 20. 

88 In the Revue de Baris of 1834, vol. xi, p. 333. Reproduced in a small 
pirated volume: Le Marquis de Sade^ by J. Janin; La Viriti sur les deux 
proces criminels du Marquis de Sade^ by Le Bibliophile Jacob (i.e. Paul 
Lacroix) (Paris, chez les Marchands de Nouveautes, 1834. This is a 
wrong date, because the article by Lacroix appeared for the first time in the 
Revue de Baris of 1837, vol. xxxviii, pp. I 35 - 44 )- Flaubert wrote to his 



174 the romantic AGONY 

friend Chevalier (letter of July 15th, 1839, in Correspondancey op. cit., 
vol. i, p. 41) that Janin’s article *m*a revolt^, sur le compte de Janin, bien 
entendu, car il declamait pour la morale, pour la jihilanthropie, pour les 
vierges dep. . . 

89 Journal des DibatSy June 5th, 1839. 

90 Jenseits von Gut und Bosey 26. 

91 The opinion of Anatole France may be seen in his introduction to 
Dorciy ou la bizarrerie du sorty conie inidiiy par le M. de Sade (Paris, 
Charavay, 1881), pp. 21-2. Correspondance inidite du M, de SadCy op. cit., 
Bourdin concludes (p. riviii): 

‘Malgre Keller et les bonbons cantharid^s, les fiUes de Lyon et de Vienne, Nanon, 
Justine, les jeunes secretaires, les pfelerins de la Coste, les petites feuilles et les 
revelations de Marais, je n’arrive pas k le prendre au serieux. Ses vices sont trop 
semblables k une maladie de peauj il est trop depourvu de contrdle sur lui-meme, 
d*inquietude dans le tnal, d’ambition dans la rlvolte, son esprit est trop ingenu- 
ment pervers, sa litterature trop ennuyeuse. Tout est faute chez lui, c’est-k-dire 
manquement ou failiite.’ See above, note 46 and addition. 

92 Vol. i, p. 2x4. 

93 See Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du Lundiy vol. v, pp. 3 34 et seq., especially 
338 and 343. 

94 Among the antecedents of Soulid may also be mentioned Auswakl aus 
des Teufels Papiereny by Jean Paul Richter (1789), and Mittheilungen aus 
den Memotren des Satany by Wilhelm Hauff (1826). 

95 Les Mimoires du Diabhy vol. i, p. 242 (Calmann-Levy edition of 1 8 8 8) . 

96 Id., vol. iii, p. X 50. 

97 For a general account of Soulie’s work, see Hartland, op. cit., pp. 
205-38. 

98 This circumstance, together with the condemnation to death for 
infanticide, has a parallel in VHistoire dlHilene Gillet, in the Conies de la 
veillie (X832), which Nodier took from a chronicle of the seventeenth 
century. Nodier’s Helene had been drugged, like so many other victims 
who are to be met with in Romantic literature, beginning with Clarissa, 

‘Entrain^ chez une fausse amie apostee pour sa perte, sous le pr^texte de quelque 
action de charit6 chr^tienne, elle y fut fascinee, comme les victimes du vieux 
des Sept-Montagnes, par un breuvage narcotique*. 

^ See the chapter farther on, entitled ‘Swinburne and “le vice anglais’ 
The passage is quoted from the Brussels reprint of 1872. Claretie (op. 
cit. note 102) has: 

"Quand le couteau tomba, il se fit une sorte de rumeur, et un Anglais penche 
sur une fen^tre qu*il avait lou6e cinq cent francs, fort satisfait, cria un long fuety 
njoeU en applaudissant des mains.’ 

*99 In 1824 had appeared, published by Sanson, Dina ou la fiancie juive 
(traduit de I’hebreu par Samuel Danson, et publ. par Marie Aycard). 

*0* See CEuvres posthumeSy pp. x 52 et seq. Other elements in this play 
^are derived from Poe (JChe Black Caty The Imp of the Perverse). See 
Seylaz, op. cit, pp, 54 et seq., and Baudelaire, Lettres (Paris, Mercure de 
France, 1907), pp. 60-1. 



THE SHADOW OF THfe DIVINE MARQUIS 175 

See J. Claretie, Pitrus Bore! le Lycaniirope; sa me — ses Merits — sa 
correspondance, poistes et documents tnidtts (Paris, Pincebourde, 1865; 
Biblioth^ue originale), p. 107.* 

V Art romantiqtte\ reflexions surmes contemporains, vol. v. A complete 
edition of the works of Borel, edited by Aristide Marie, began to appear 
in 1922, printed by ‘La Force fran^aise’ (500 numbered copies), but it 
did not go beyond the third volume (voL i. Biography and Bibliography; 
vol. ii, Rhapsodies; voL iii, Champavert).^ 

Quelques viritiSy &c., op. at. 

J05 See the sketches of some of the eccentrics of the period of Baudelaire 
in E. Raynaud, CL Baudelaire (Paris, Garnier, 1922), pp. 103 et seq., 
especially the sketch of Lassailly, whose novel Les Roueries de TrialpL 
notre contemporam avant son suicide, published in 1833, shows the same 
taste for the grotesque and the horrible as we have already seen in the 
Contes immoraux* A contemporary critic {Charles Monselet) saw ‘la 
beaute du diable’ in Lassailly’s book. With regard to the surroundings in 
which Baudelaire came to maturity, see also the remarks of Martino in 
Revue d*iistoire littiraire de la France, 30® annee (1923), p. 568 (review 
of Raynaud’s book). 

Mimoires du comte Horace de Viel Caste! sur le rlgne de Napoleon III 
{18 $1^1864) (Paris, chez tousles Libraires, 1883), vol. i, pp. 107 et seq. 
(March 29th, 1851). 

The Comte de Viel Castel uses the term ‘sadism’ in too wide a sense; 
hence the inclusion in his list of authors to whom this term cannot be 
applied. Mademoiselle de Maupin was responsible, on the other hand, for 
the fashion for the Androgyne, which assumed alarming proportions only 
in the second part of the century. In the worthy Theo the casual allusion 
to dreadful subjects is merely an affectation, but there was more than 
affectation in his feeling for the equivocal charms of Lesbos. 

On Eugene Sue, whom Viel Castel detested for political reasons, 
see also vol. iii of the Mimoires, p. 212. Moreover, if what he says is true 
— ^that Sue said to him one day: ‘Venez me voir, nous ferons de bonnes 
orgies !’ it is quite probable that the novelist was pulling his leg. On Sue, 
see especially Sainte-Beuve’s note in Portraits contemporains, vol. iii, 
pp.115-17. 

This characteristic aspect of the work of de Mus^has been analysed 
with great penetration by P. Lasserre (op. cit., pp*! 2S4 et seq.), and was 
ascribed to masochism by J. Charnentier {La Vie meurtrie A Alfred de 
Musset, Paris, Piazza, 1928, p. 58 and also pp. 79, 83, 84*). Musset was 
directly and slavishly imitating Sadejiimself if he was really the author 
of the vulgar pornographic composiuon called Gamiani, ou Deux Nuits 
d^exces. By Alcide, Baron de M***, which is full of Lesbian lecheries, 
bestialities, and sadistic pleasures. Tkds naughty little volume was printed 
ill 1^35 (ostensibly at Venice), etc. (altogether 41 editions 

between 1833 and 1928); in 1864 in Paris by Barraouel, with the 
false indication ‘Amsterdam, 1840’, and with a frontispiece and a few 
other illustrations by Rops, as well as reproductions of the illustrations 



176 THE ROMiNTIC AGONY 

in the previous editions, some of which were extremely coarse (the 
illustrations by Rops come under the numbers 464—8 in the catalogue 
of the works of Rops in La Flume ^ June 15th, 1896). Rops’ frontispiece 
confirms the attribution to Musset, since it has written on a scroll; ‘C’est 
toi pMe Rolia’. The editor of the 1 864 edition declares that it was printed 
from ‘une des copies manuscrites prises par les amis de notre jeune po^te 
i la suite du souper dans un des plus brillants restaurants du Palais-Royal’ 
a short time after the Revolution of 1830. He also quotes some lines, 
‘Chantez, chantez encore, r^veurs mdancoliques’, which might have been 
suggested by circumstances analogous with those of Musset’s love for Mme 
Groisellier (see L. Seche, Alfred de Musset^ Paris, Mercure de France, 
1907, vol. ii, p. 13). Some critics say that the Countess Gamiani is a 
satirical portrait of George Sand, but this theory, apart from anything 
else, would riot agree with the date generally attributed to the book. The 
attribution to Musset is reasserted by L. Perceau {BUliographie du roman 
irotique au XIXe siecky Paris, Foudrinier, 1930, voL i, p. 66), who, how- 
ever, says: ‘Mais il faut avouer qu’aucune preuve materielle de cette 
patemite ne peut ^tre produite.’* 

“0 Journal^ vol, iv, p. z8i (Apr. aSth, 1871). On the influence of 
the Confession in Russia, see chap, v, p. 337. 

Essay on Delacroix in Histoire du Romantisme (Edition Charpentier, 
1877, p, 205). 

*1* Passages from the JourkaL April 13th and 20th, June 12th, 1824, 
quoted by R. Escholier, Delacroix (Paris, Floury, 1926-8), vol. i, pp. 86 
et seq. 

”3 Journal^ vol. i, p. 113, quoted by Escholier, op. cit., vol, i, p. ii8. 

Baudelaire, ‘L’CEuvre et la vie d’Eug^ne Delacroix’, in VArt 
rom antique*, 

‘La morality de ses oeuvres, si toutefois il est permis de parler de la morality en 
peinture, porte aussi un caract^re molochiste visible. Tout, dans son oeuvre, 
n’est que d&olation, massacres, incendies^ tout porte t^moignage contre T^ter- 
nelle et incorrigible barbaric de Thomme. Les villes incendfe et fumantes, les 
victimes ^gorg^es, les femmes viol^, les enfants eux-m6mes jetes sous les pieds 
des chevaux ou sous le poignard des m^res d6Iirantes$ tout cet oeuvre, dis-je, 
ressemble a un hymne terrible compost en Fhonneur de la fatalite et de Firr^m^- 
diable douleur.* 

Baudelaire’s other essay on Delacroix, in Ralon de 1846, is to be found in the 
volume of Curiosit/s esthitiques, 

“5 G. Dargenty, Engine Delacroix par luUmeme (Paris, Rouam, 1885). 

Quoted from Escholier, op. dt., vol. i, p. 56, 

J See my artide ‘Swinburne’, in Cultural Oct, 15th, 1922 (vol. i, 
no. 12), pp. 536-53. 

*** The English text has: 

‘Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion 
and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber.* 

In the Salon de 18461 

‘Cette haute et s^rieuse mdancolie brille d*onedat mome, mSme dans sa couleur. 



THE SHADOW OF TH^ DIVINE MARQUIS 177 

large, simple, abondante, en masses barmoniques, comme celle de tous les grands 
coloristes, mais plaintive et profonde comme une melodic de Weber.* 

In 1858 Baudelaire wrote to A. Fraisse: ^En 1846 ou 1847 j’eus con- 
naissance de quelques fragments d’Edgar Poe/ So that the comparison 
between Delacroix and Weber must have been made before Baudelaire 
-read The Fall of the House of Usher, The stanza m Les FhareSy however, 
does not appear in the ori^nal version of the essay on Delacroix in the 
article ‘Exposition universelle de 1855’, Pays, June 3rd, 1855 (JLes 
Fleurs du mal^ ed. Cr^pet, 1922, p. 41 3). 

Escholier, op. cit., voLii, pp. 175-6. In Baudelaire’s preface to the 
Histoires extraordinaires he says: 

‘Comme notre Eugene Delacroix, qui a ^lev^ son art ^ la hauteur de la grande 
po^ie, Edgar Poe aime k agiter ses figures sur des fonds violatres et verdatres 
oil se r^v^lent la phosphorescence de la pourriture et ia senteur de forage.* 

Letter of Oct. 6th, 1859, quoted from E. Crepet, Charles Baudelaire^ 
£tude biografhtque revue et tnise d jour par J, Qripet (Paris, Vanier, 1906), 
P- 377 - 

On Baudelaire’s religious opinions see the very just remarks of P. 
Flottes, Baudelaire^ Phomme et le pokte (Paris, Perrin et Cie, 1922), pp. 
58-71, 193-6, 217-18, 221-3. 

*22 Cauteries du Luadi, voL xv, pp. 350-2. 

^^3 ‘Le Sadisme chez Baudelaire’ was the subject of an article by Doctor 
Cabanas (in the Chronique mldtcale^ IX® Annde, no. 22, Nov. r5th, 1902, 
pp. 725-35)> in which, however, the documentation is not complete, nor 
always reliable; Cabanas, for example, makes a point of such declarations 
of Baudelaire as that of his passion for giantesses and dwarfs, which were 
made ‘pour epater ie bourgeois’. The passage which C. Lombroso devoted 
to Baudelaire in his Uomo di Genio is completely devoid of value, badly 
informed, and stupidly contemptuous. More recently Doctor Rend 
Laforgue has attempted a psycho-analytical study of Baudelaire in his book 
VBchec de Baudelaire (Paris, Editions Denoel et Steele, 193 1). Chapter vi, 
‘Le Sado-masochisme dans la poesie de Baudelaire’, is littie more than an 
anthology of significant passages. But in any case, as J. Roydre remarks in 
‘L’firotologie de Baudelaire’, in Le Mercure de France of June 1 5 th, 1920, 
p. 624 (reprinted in the volume Pomes dl amour de Baudelaire^ le ginie 
mystique^ Paris, Michel, 1927), there is no point in insisting on Baudelaire’s 
algolagnia, ‘car la-dessus tous les lecteurs s’accordent’. Anatole France, in 
the introduction (op, cit.) to Sade’s Dorcu remarks (p. 25): 

‘Mais comment ne pas noter sur ces feuillets de nosologic litteraire le penchant 
irresistible de I’auteur des Fleurs du mal k assoaer le crime et la volupte, en 
sorte qu*on ne salt plus s*ii chante, dans ses strophes d*un sombre edat, ie crime 
de la volupte ou la volupte du crime? La peste sadique n’a pas tue ce pofete 
magnifique et smguUer, mais elle fa atteint, comme elle a atteint plusieurs 
autres en ce temps-d: 

, Us ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous itaient frappei^ 

124 The italics here are mine. Compare this with what Poe wrote about 
the origin of The Raveni ‘The lover . . . propounds queries . . . half in 
superstition and half in that species of despair which delights in self- 



178 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

torture ... he experiences a frenzied pleasure in so modelling his questions 
as to receive from the expected ‘‘Nevermore’^ the most delicious, because 
/ the most intolerable, of sorrow*. Cf. also, in Baudelaire’s essay on Richard 
Wagner et Tannhauser d Paris: Te sentiment presque ineffable, tant il est 
terrible, de la joie dans la damnation’, and in Reflexions sur mes contempo- 
rains i voL vii, p, 359 of VArt ront antique ^ in the edition of the (Euvres 
completes of J. Cr^pet (Paris, Conard, 1925). 

“^'5 D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (London, 
oecker, 1924), vol. vi. Especially: 

^Ligeia is the chief story. [Ligeia is Virginia, Poe’s wife.] It is a tale of love pushed 
over a verge. And love pushed to extreme is a battle of wills between the lovers. . . 
Which shall first destroy the other, of the lovers ? . . . Ligeia is the old-fashioned 
woman. Her will is still to submit. She wills to submit to the vampire of her 
husband’s consciousness. Even death. . . . What he wants to do with Ligeia is 
to analyse her, till he knows all her component parts, till he has got her all in his 
consciousness. ... It is easy to see why each man kills the thing he loves. To 
Jknmx a living thing is to kill it. You have to kill a thing to know it satisfac- ^ 
torily. For this reason, the desirous consciousness, the spirit, is a vampire . . ,J 
Every sacred instinct teaches one that one must leave her (i.e. the woman one 
loves) unknown. You know your woman darkly, in the blood. To try to Jmmii 
her mentally is to kill her. ... It is the temptation of a vampire fiend, is this 
knowledge. . . . Poe wanted to know — ^wanted to know what was the strangeness 
in the eyes of Ligeia. She might have told him it was horror, horror at his 
probing, horror at being vamped by his consciousness. But she wanted to be 
vamped. She wanted to be probed by his consciousness, to be hionm. She paid 
for wanting it, too. Nowadays it is usually the man who wants to be vamped, 
to be KNOWN. . . . Poe and Ligeia sinned against the Holy Ghost that bids us all 
laugh and forget, bids us know our own limits. And they weren’t forgiven.’ 

He adds, however: 

‘Du moins Ligeia, Eleonora, ne sont pas, k proprement parler, des histoires 
d’amour, i’id^ principale sur laquelle pivote I’ceuvre ^tant tout autre’. 

*27 Perhaps the following opinion of Baudelaire is more appropriate 
than the one quoted above: 

‘Dans ses articles, il parle quelquefois de I’amour, et m6me comme d’une chose 
dont ie nom fait frtoir la plume.* 

*28 (Euvres posthumes, p. 124; Joumaux intimes, ed. Van Bever, p. 92. 

VArt romantique, Le Peintre de la vie modeme, xi. 

130 (Euvres posthumes, p. 78; Joumaux intimes, p. 8. 

* 3 * Id., p. loi; Journ. inU, p. 48. 

*32 Id., p. 87; Joum. int., p. 24. 

*33 Id,, p, 107; Joum. int., p. 59. 

*34 Id., p. 77; Journ. int., pp. 6~8. 

*35 Id., p, 100; Journ. int., p. 46. Cf. VH/autontimoroum/nos and the 
passage of Swinburne’s Leshia Brandon quoted in chap, iv, § 17. 

*36 Cf. also Madrigal triste quoted in chap, i, and the delectatio morbosa 
of XJne Martyre. 

*37 It may be noted that in his famous sonnet on Beauty Baudelaire 



THE SHADOW OF T^E DIVINE MARQUIS 179 

touches upon the subject of the Belle Dame sans merci with which I shall 
deal in the next chapter: 

Je suis belle, 6 mortels! comme un r^ve de pierre, 

Et mon sein, ot chacun s’est meurtri tour a tour, 

Est fait pour inspirer au po^te un amour 
Etemei et muet ainsi que la mati^re. 

Je trdne dans Tazur comme un sphinx incompris; 

J*unis un coeur de neige k la blancheur des cygnesj 
Je hais le mouvement qui d^place les lignes, 

Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris. 

138 I am following the arrangement suggested hy Prince Alexander 
Ourousoff in Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire^ and approved by Crepet 
(op. cit., pu 62 note). 

^39 In a sonnet (CEuvres postkumesj p. 60), written when Baudelaire was 
at the College Louis-le-Grand, he had already compared himself to one 
of the fakirs who throw themselves beneath the car of Juggernaut: ^ 

. . . sur mon sein brulant, je crois tenir serr^ 

Quelque idole terrible et de sang alters, 

A qui les longs sanglots des moribonds sont doux; 

Et j*4prouve, au milieu des spasmes frenetiques, 

L’atroce enivrement des vieux Fakirs Indous, 
les extases sans fin des Brahmes fanatiques. 

140 (Euvres postkumes^ P* 359 » Journaux intimes^ pp. i26-‘7. 

141 (Euvres fosthumesj^* 

*42 Baudelaire’s impotence, generally admitted in this case, is denied by 
Flottes (op. dt., p. 130) on the basis of a letter of Baudelaire of Aug. 31st, 
1 8 57, in which he professes to see a proof of effective possession. According 
to Flottes, it was a case of rapid repugnance. This view is shared by Pierre 
Dufay, in his study of Madame Sabatier contained in Autour de Baudelaire 
(Paris, Au Cabinet du Livre, 1931): ‘Son r^ve s’^tait evanoui dans la 
tiedeur de ses bras.’ However, a passage in that very letter of Aug. 3 ist, 
1857: ‘Et si, par malheur pour moi, j’acquiers le droit d’etre jalouxl’ 
seems to imply that no possession had taken place, for possession would 
have given the poet the right of being jealous.* 

143 Nadar, Ch, Baudelaire intime ^ le poete vierge (Paris, Blaizot, 1911). 
Nadar’s opinion is accepted by I^ynaud (op. dt., pp. 249 et seq.), 
and discredited by Flottes (op. dt., pp. no and 136). In any case the 
theory of his virginity does not fit in with the venereal disease which 
Baudelaire contracted at the beginning of his erotic experience, and which 
eventually led to his death. Royfere (op. dt., p. 62 5) notes certain proba- 
bilities ‘tr^ fortes’ in support of the theory of virginity. According to J. 
Mouquet, CL Baudelaire ^ vers retrouvis (Paris, Emile-Paul, 1929, p. 35), 
the legend of his virginity was an immense mystification on the part of the 
poet himself. 

^44 (Euvres posthumes^ p. 234. In the definitive preface to the Histoires 
extraordinaires the text of this passage appears with certain variants of 
minor importance. 



i8o THE ROMANIC AGONY 

i« Sech^-Bertaud, quoted in note 38 of chap, i, pp. 79 and 1 26 ; Crepet, 
Op. cit., pp. 65-6, note. 

^46 See Le FigarOy Nov. 2nd, 1900. 

147 Curieuse! 1886 edition, p. 69. 

See also Croce in his essay on ‘Flaubert^ which originally appeared 
in La Cntkay vol. xviii (1920). Flaubert himself recognized the affinity; 
cf. Correspondancey Edition Conard, vol. iii, pp. 301 and 346. 

R. Dumesnil, Flaubert y son kiridtti — son milieu — sa mithode (Paris, 
Society frangaise d’Imprimerie et de Librairie, n.d. but 1905), pp. 88-9. 

ISO Houveaux LundiSy vol. iv, p. 71. 

T. Reik, Flaubert und seine ^Versuchung des keiligen Antonins* y ein 
Beitrag zur Kunstlerpsychlogie (Minden, Bruns, 1912). 

Croce, op. cit., p. 196. 

*53 Cf. among others, the passage: 

‘IIs se penchaient pour le voir [le corps de cette victime], les femmes surtout. 
Elies brffiaient de contempler celui qui avait fait mourir leurs enfants et leurs 
epoux; et au fond de leur ame, malgr^ elles, surgissait une infSme curiosity, le 
d^r de le connaitre compl^tement, envie mSl^ de remords et qui se toumait 
en un surcroit d execration.* 

*54 Cf. the essay by M. Schwob, ‘Saint Julien THospitalier’, in Spicilige 
{CEuvres complies, vol. iv). 

iss Quoted above, chap, i, p. 33. 

* 5 ^ D’Annunzio derived from this both PampMla and an episode in 
Maia, ‘La vecchiezza di Elena’ (see chap, iv, § 24). 

*57 Cf. chap, i, p. 31. 

*58 This temptation, which appears in slightly different forms in the 
versions of 1849 and 1856, does not appear at all in the final text. Reik 
(op. cit., pp. 84-5 and 183) maintains that Flaubert suppressed it because it 
revealed to him his own subliminal incestuous desire for his mother. But 
there may be a much simpler reason for its suppression: this scene was not 
original. In The Monky Ambrosio’s first temptation was provoked precisely 
by the image of the Madonna, after a suggestion taken from Schiller’s 
Geisterselur (Railo, op. cit., pp. 261-2). This is the passage; 

‘ “Should I meet in that world which I am constrained to enter, some lovely 
female— lovely as you— Madona—r As he said this, he fixed his eyes upon a 
picture of the Virgin, which was suspended opposite to him; this for two years 
had been the object of his increasing wonder and adoration. He paused, and 
gazed upon it with delight. **What beauty in that countenance !“ he continued, 
after a silence of some minutes; “how graceful is the turn of that head! what 
sweetness, yet what majesty in her divine eyes! how softly her cheek recHnes 
upon h^ hand ! Can the rose vie with the blush of that cheek? can the lily rival 
the nahiteness of that hand} Oh 1 if such a creature existed, and existed but for me! 
were I permitted to twine round my fingers those golden ringktSy and press with 
my lips the treasures of that snowy bosom! gracious God, should I then resist 
the temptation? ^ Should 1 not baiter for a single embrace the reward of my 
sufferings for thirty ye^? Should I not abandon— Fool that I am! Whither 
do I suffer my admiration of this picture to hurry me? Anxi(^y impure ideasP* * 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS i8i 
Cf. Teatation (1849): 

‘II ouvre son missel et regarde Timage de la Vierge . . “Oh, que je t’aimeT’ 
II contemple Fimage de plus en plus. . , . La ^otx: “Qu’elle est belle la m^re 
du Sauveurl qu’ils sont doux ses longs che^eux blonds dpanches le long de son 
pMe visage! etc. Regarde done ses oils fins abaiss^s, qui font sur sa joue les 
ombres d*un r&eaul . . . Et ses mams f his blanches que les hostiesl etc. Les longs 
cheveux ... les longs cheveux d*or. . . . EUe te serrera dans ses bras, elle te 
plongera dans ses regards . . . ** Antoinex Demons de mesfensies^ arri^rer * 
Flaubert makes the image of the Madonna come to life before the eyes of 
Antony, and even accomplish acts ‘comme les courtisanes des carrefours*. 
Something similar happens in The Monk: 

‘Sometimes his dreams presented the image of his favourite Madona ... the 
eyes of the figure seemed to beam on him with inexpressible sweetness; he pressed 
his lips to hers, and found them warm; the animated form started from the 
canvas, embraced him affectionately, and his senses were unable to support 
delight so exquisite. Such were the scenes on which his thoughts were employed 
while sleeping: his unsatisfied desires placed before him the most lustful and 
provoking images, and he rioted in joys till then unknown to him.* 

Towards the end of the novel the Devil reveals to Ambrosio that he has 
tempted him through the image of the Madonna, which is none other 
than a portrait of Matilda, drawn by Martin Galuppi, ‘a celebrated 
Venetian’. Lewis was writing from the Protestant point of view. Balden- 
sperger, in the study already quoted on the influence of The Monk in 
France, does not mention this as being one of Flaubert’s sources. As 
regards that which the Voice whispered to Antony, apropos of the Madon- 
na: ‘Ce ne serait pas la premiere fois, va! die a couch^ avec Panth^rus, 
qui etait un soldat remain k la barbe frisee . . . elle aime tout le monde, 
etc.’, cf. Sade, Juliette^ vol. iii, p. 152, ‘. . . les soldats de la garnison de 
Jerusalem par qui la bougresse s’en faisait donner tous les jours . . 

*59 Janin might well have put his name to the following passage of 
Un Farfum a sentir: 

*Une maison de jeu . . . avec toute sa prostitution hideuse, un de ces taudis ob 
parfois, le lendemain, on trouve quelque cadavre mutil^ entre les verres bris^ 
et les haillons tout rouges de sang. . . . Quelques femmes k moiti^ nues se prome- 
naient paisiblement autour d*eux, et plus loin, dans un coin, deux hommes armes, 
debout devant une jeune fiUe couch^ sur le pav6 et liee avec des cordes, tiraient 
k la courte paille. Vous fr^missez peut-^tre, aimable lecteur, k la peinture de 
cette moiti^ de la soci^t^, la maison de jeu ? L*autre, e’est Thopital, c*est la 
guillotine.’ 

Cf. bdow, chap, v, § 9, and note 47. In the same story he says: 
*Elle eut de I’amour pour Dorsay comme en durent avoir les fiUes des 
hommes pour les anges, quand les anges s’imagin^rent qu’il y avait plus 
de paradis dans Fadult^re que dans les cieux.’* 
i6i ‘Notice sur Champavert’ in Contes immoraux. In a letter of 1853 
{Corresp., vol. ii, p. 171) Flaubert says, apropos of Borel, whom he was 
re-reading at the time: *Je trouve la mes vieilles phrenesies de jeunesse’. 
i 6 z Corresp,, vol, i, p. 89, Oct. 29th, 1842; Novemire^ p. 241. 

*65 Mademoiselle de Maupin, edition Charpentier, pp. 61, 154, Sade 
had said, on the subject of Nero {Juliette^ vol, v, p. 291): ‘O Neron, 



i 82 the ROMAfmC AGONY 

laisse-moi venerer ta memoire Flaubert’s work is full of regrets for the 
Rome of the Caesars. Cf. Corresp.^ vol. i, p. 114: ‘Aussi j ’admire Neron: 
c’est I’homme culminant du monde antique I etc.’ (in the Danse des morts^ 
1838, in (Euvres de jeunesse^ vol. i, p. 451: ‘Neron, ce fils cheri de mon 
coeur, le plus grand po^te que la terre ait eu’); p. 152: ‘J’ai vecu ^ Rome, 
c’est certain, du temps de Cesar ou de Neron . . p. 467; Mimotres d^un 
fou (JEu^res de jeunesse^ vol. i, p. 491): 

‘Mais c’etait Rome que j*aimais, la Rome imperiale, cette belle reine se roulant 
dans Torgie, salissant ses nobles v^tements du vin de la d^bauche, plus fi^re de 
ses vices qu’elle ne Tetait de ses vertus. N 4 ron I N^ron, avec ses chars de diamant 
volant dans Far^ne, ses mille voitures, ses amours de tigre et ses festins de geant.* 
Smarh {(Emres de jeunesse^ vol. ii, p. 97); Rome et les Cesars (1839): 

‘Neron ne vient-il jamais reprendre les renes de son char splendide, qui vole sur 
le sable d*or et dont les roues broient des hommes ? ses orgies titaniques, aux 
flambeaux humains, sont-elles bien finies ? . . . Vous ne rlverez rien de si terrible 
et de si monstrueux que les demiferes heures de F Empire, c est Ih le r^gne du crime, 
c*est son apogee, sa gioire; ilest monte sur le tr6ne, il s*y etale k Faise, en souverainj 
il se farde encore pour etre plus beau, k aucune ^poque vous le verrez pareil; 
Alexandre VI est un nain a cote de Tib^re, et les imaginations de dix grands 
pontes ne cr^raient pas quelque chose qui vaudrait cinq minutes de la vie de 
N 4 ron. , . . I.e monde ^tant k un seul homme, comme un esclave, il pouvait le 
torturer pour son plaisir, et il fut torture en effet jusqu'k la derm^re fibre. . . . 
Le crime est une volupte comme les autres . . . Neron disait aux bourreaux: 
“Faites en sorte qu’ils se sentent mourir”, et pench^ en avant sur les poitrines 
ouvertes des victimes, il regardait le sang battre dans les coeurs, et il trouvait, 
dans ces derniers gemissements d*un ^tre qui quitte la vie, des d^lices inconnues, 
des volupt^s supremes, comme lorsqu’une femme, ^perdue sous Foeil de 
Fempereur, tombait dans ses bras et se mourait sous ses baisers. Oh! les 
coeurs atroces! oh! les ^mes sublimes dans le crime! Chacjue jour ils 
redoublent, chaque jour ils inventent, leur esprit est un enfer qui fournit des 
tortures au monde, ils insultent k la nature dans leurs debauches. . . . L’histoire 
alors est une orgie sanglante, dans laquelle il nous faut entrer, sa vue m6me 
enivre et fait venir la naus& au coeur.* 

Nffvembre {CEuvres de jeunesse, vol. ii, pp. 182 and 185): 

7’a^rais voulu an^tir la creation . . . que ne me r6veill^-je k la lueur des villes 
incendi^es ! J*aurais voulu entendre le fr^missement des ossements que la flamme 
fait petiller, traverser des fleuves charges de cadavres, galoper sur des peuples 
courb^ et les teaser des quatres fers de mon cheval, tee Gengiskan, Tamerlan, 
Nten, effrayer le monde au froncement de mes sourcils*. 

tducation sentmentale (1845) {(Euvres de jeunesse^ vol. iii, p. 160): 

‘L’amour romain . . . se ramifiant a toutes les folies, s*elargissant dans toutes les 
lubricity, tour k tour ^gyptien sous Antoine, asiadque k Naples avec Nten, 
indien avec H^liogabale, sicilien, tartare et byzandn sous Theodora, et toujours 
mtent du sang k ses roses, et toujours etalant sa chair rouge sous Farcade de son 
grand cirque oh hurlaient les lions, oh nageaient les hippopotames, oh mouraient 
les chrteens.* 

On Flaubert’s Orient, see also L. F. Benedetto, Le Qrigini di ^Balammbt^ 
(Florence, Bemporad, 1920), pp. 21 et seq. Useful observations on the 
subject of Romantic exoticism, together with a plentiful documentation, 
are to be found in F. Brie, Exotismus der Btnne^ Mine Btudie zur Psychologie 



THE SHADOW OF TEIE DIVINE MARQUIS 183 

der Romantik (Heidelberg, Winter, 1920). Flaubert is discusbed on p, 51 
et seq. There is a hint of Romantic exoticism, a genuine anticipation of 
Flaubert’s lecherous, cruel Orient, in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Greats 
on which see my essay in English Studies^ vol. xiii, no. 6 (Dec. 1931)- 
With Marlowe, just as with the French Romantics about 1830, the explor- 
ation of the soul of a powerful tyrant living in a cruel and magnificent 
age became tantamount to the exploration of the sources of his own ‘desire, 
lift upward and divine’.* 

Flaubert derived from Gautier a certain laconic descriptive style which 
IS used especially in the Tentation. Cf. for instance, in Mademoiselle de 
Maupm, p. 212: 

*La cigala crie et chante, Tepi craque, Tombre vaincue et n’en pouvant plus de 
chaleur, se pelotonne et se ramasse au pied des arbresj tout rayonne, tout reluit, 
tout resplendit. . . 

W^e have occasional glimpses of Gautier’s and Flaubert’s type of exo- 
deism in Chateaubriand, e.g. Mimoires d^ outre-tombe^ vol. i; 

‘II serait trop long de raconter quels voyages je faisais avec ma fieur d’amour; 
comment, main en main, nous visidons les ruines c6I^bres, Venise, Rome, 
Ath^nes, Jerusalem, Memphis, Carthage; comment nous franchissions les mers; 
comment nous demandions le bonheur aux palmiers d’Otahiti, aux bosquets 
embaumes d’Amboine et de Tidor; comment, au sommet de THimalaya, nous 
alhons reveiiler Taurore; comment nous descendions les jiewves saints^ dont les 
vagues epandues entourent les pagodes aux boules d’or; comment nous dormions 
aux rives du Gange, tandis que le bengali, perche sur le m^t d*une nacelle de 
bambou, chantait sa barcarolle indienne.’ 

164 Mademoiselle de Maupin, p. 222. Cf. Flaubert, Corresp.y vol. i, p. 60: 

‘J’etais n^ pour 6tre empereur de Cochmehine, pour fumer dans des pipes de 36 
toises, pour avoir six mille femmes et 1400 bardaches, etc.* 

Mademoiselle de Mauptn, pp. 197 and 221. 

Id., p. 211. 

167 Corresp,y vol, if p. 173, letter of Aug. 13th, 1846, to Louise Colet. 

168 Plovembre, pp. 239 et seq. The italics are mine. See also Corresp,^ 
vol. i, p. 78.* 

169 Mademoiselle de Maupin^ p. 269. Cf. NovembrCf p. 180: 

‘J’etais, dans la variete de mon etre, comme une immense foret de I’lnde, oh la vie 
palpite dans chaque atome et apparait, monstrueuse ou adorable, sous chaque 
rayon de soleil; I’azur est rempli de parfums et de poisons, les tigres bondissent, 
les ^l^phants marchent fi^rement comme des pagodes vivantes, les dieux, myst^- 
rieux et difFormes, sont cach^ dans le creux des cavernes parmi de grands 
monceaux d’or; et au milieu, coule le large fleuve, avec des crocodiles beants 
qui font claquer leurs ecailles dans le lotus du rivage, et ses lies de fleurs que le 
courant entraine avec des troncs d’arbres et des cadavres verdis par la peste.* 

170 An expression which is found in a letter of 1857 to Jules Duplan is 
rather revealing. Flaubert, speaking of the composition of SalammbS, says: 

*Ce n’est pas que je sois inspire le moins du monde, mais j*ai envie de voir 9a, 
e’est une sorte de curiosity et comme qui dirait un d^sir lubrique sans Erection.* 
See also Corresp,, vol. ii, p. 159, apropos of Madame Bovary, 

171 Corresp,f vol. i, p. 433 (Apr. 24th, 1852). 



1 84 THE ROMiNTIC AGONY 

^72 Corresp,y voL i, p. 406. 

*73 Corresp., vol. ii, pp. 84 et seq. 

*74 One must remember what Baudelaire wrote about E. Poe {(Euvres 
postkumesy p. 195): 

‘Le caractfere, le g^nie, le style d’un homme est forme par les circonstances en 
apparence vulgaires de sa premiere jeunesse. Si tous les hommes qui ont occup6 
la sc^ne du monde avaient not^ leurs impressions d’enfance, quel excellent 
dictionnaire psychologique nous poss^derions !* 

*75 Cf. Baudelaire, Le mauvats mtrier : ‘Ces plaisanteries nerveuses ne 
sont pas sans peril, etc.’ 

*76 Corresp,, vol. ii, p. 283. 

*77 pp. 17^ et seq. 

*78 See above, p. 1 5 1 . Cf. also Corresp,^ vol. i, p. 1 3 1 , letter of May 26th, 

1845: 

‘C’est une chose singuli^re comme je suis 4cart^ de la femme. J’en suis repu 
comme doivent I’Stre ceux qu’on a trop aim6s. Je suis devenu impuissant par 
ces elHuves magniiiques que j’ai trop sends bouiUonner pour les voir jamais se 
d^verser. Je n’iprouve mSme vis-k-vis d’aucun jupon le desir de curiosity qui 
vous pousse k divoiler I’inconnu et k chercher du nouveau.* 

*79 Corresp,, vol. ii, p. 533. 

*«o Op. cit., p. 88. 

isi Without entering into a detailed analysis as we have done here, 
Croce, in his essay already quoted, comes to the same conclusion. 

*82 Corresp,, vol. i, p. 41. The passage that I quote concludes: 

*0 mon cher Ernest, k propos du Marquis de Sade, si tu pouvais me trouver 
quelques-uns des romans de cet honn^te ^crivain, je te les payerais leur pesant d’or.* 
*83 CEuvres de jeunesse^ vol. iii, p. 162- 
*84 CE, de jeunesse^ vol, i, pp. 25-6, Portrait de Lord Byron. 

*85 M/moires d^un fou, in (E. de jeun,y vol. i, p. 498. 

*86 Corresp.^ vol. i, p. 190 (Sept. 4th->5th, 1846), 

*87 The expression used by me is found in De Quincey, Suspiria de 
profundis (Levana): ‘keys more than papal . . . which open every cottage 
and every palace.’ 188 See chap, ii, § 14. 

*89 The name is derived from a novel by Sue, Latriaumont (1838), in * 
which that popular author represents the adventurer Latrdaumont, the 
villain of the conspiracy of the Chevalier de Rohan against Louis XIV, as 
a satanical cj^c who, under torture, hurls forth words of defiance and 
mockery. Discussing these words, Gustave Planche wrote (^Portraits 
littirairesy 1848, vol. ii, p, 116): 

‘Je pense pas que ces paroles servent k dessiner le caractkre de Latreaumont, 
et je suis sOr qu*elles exciteront un ddgofit universel. II n*y a Ik rien de tragique, 
rien qui 4meuve, qui effraye; c*est tout simplement une grimace sanglante.’ 

This criticism may well be repeated in the case of the poems of the 
modem Lautreamont. 

*99 The complete edition of the Chants de Maldoror was supposed to be 
published in 1 869, but was not put on sale by the publisher. A few copies 



THE SHADOW OF THE DIVINE MARQUIS 185 

appeared in 1874 at a Belgian bookseller’s. In 1890 the book came out 
in Paris, and has recentl7 been re-exhumed by the Surrealists (edited by 
Blaise Cendrars in 1920 and by Philippe Soupault in 1927), 

^91 According to the Surrealists Lautreamont was the first to practise 
‘ecriture automatique’, a method of composition in which the control of 
reason is suppressed, thanks to a swiftness of writing which allows the 
subconscious to display itself in full; thus the text is ‘pure’ and final; any 
‘correction is a hypocrisy. This theory is a reductio ad absurdum of the 
iRomantic idea of ‘inspiration’. Although he does not show that he shares 
the theory of the Surrealists, L. Pierre-Quint, in a little book which bears 
the high-sounding title of Le Comte de Lautreamont et Dieu (Marseilles, 
Les Cahiers du Sud, 1930; Collection Critique, no. 8), goes so far as to 
say that in the Chants de Maldoror ‘un buisson ardent a parl^ comme dans 
la Bible’, and compares Lautr^mont to the moderns, finding in him the 
following aspirations (p. 12): 

*La vieiHe revoke prometheenne transform^ en revoke pure, fureur de vivre; 
Tamour caricature jusqu’k la {r 6 n 6 sit sadique; le mysticisme devenu Tennemi de 
tous les dogmes; la passion de la v6rit6, associee k un humour prodigieusement 
f6roce et seule raison d*exister devant ‘Tinutilite thedtrale et sans joie de tout*’.* 
Pierre-Quint also asserts: 

*La jeune po^sie moderne se toume vers lui avec ferveur et terreur a la fois. 
Pour Andre Breton et son groupe, pour beaucoup de jeunes gens aujourd’hui, 
la place de Lautreamont n’est pas dans la litterature. Ses revelations ont telle- 
ment bouleverse leur vie qu’il devient pour eux une sorte de personnage sacre et 
qu’il faudrait placer en dehors des atteintes du grand public. Telle est rmvraisem- 
blable destmee historique de cet ouvrage. C*est avec le retard d’un demi-siede 
qu’il apparait comme le grand livre contemporain de la revolte.* 

The chapter in Pierre-Quint’s little book entitled ‘Le sadisme et I’amour’ 
may also be referred to.* 

The following macabre recipe d la Gilles de Rais may serve as a 
specimen of many others {CEuvres completes du Comte de Lautriamont 
(Isidore Ducasse) . . . itude^ commentaire et notes par Philippe Soupault, 
Paris, Au Sans Pareil, 1927, pp. 64 et seq.): 

‘On doit laisser pousser ses ongies pendant quinze jours. Oh ! comme il est doux 
d’arracher brutalement de son lit un enfant qui n’a rien encore sur la l^vre 
superieure, et, avec les yeux tr^ ouverts, de faire semblant de passer suavement la 
main sur son front, en inclinant en arri^re ses beaux cheveux! Puis, tout k coup, 
au moment oh il s’y attend le moms, d’enfoncer les ongies longs dans sa poitrine 
moUe, de fa^on qu’il ne meure pas; car, s’il mourait, on n’aurait pas plus tard 
I’aspect de ses mis^res. Ensuite on boit le sang, etc. . . . Bande-lui & yeux, pen- 
dant que tu d^chireras ses chairs palpitantcs; et, aprb avoir entendu de longues 
heures ses cris sublimes . . . alors, t’ayant ecarte comme une avalanche, tu te 
precipiteras de la chambre voisine, et tu feras semblant d’arriver k son secours. . . . 
Comme alors le repentir est vrai I L’^tincelle divine qui est en nous, et parait 
si rarement, se montre; trop tard I Comme le coeur deborde de pouvoir consoler 
Finnocent a qui Ton a fait du mal. . . . ‘Adolescent, pardonne-moi; c’est celui 
qui est devant ta figure noble et sacr6e, qui a bris6 tes os et dechir^ les chairs qui 
pendent k differents endroits de ton corps, Est-ce un delire de ma raison malade, 
est-ce un instinct secret qui ne depend pas de mes raisonnements, pareil k celui 
de Faigle d^chirant sa proie, qui m’a pousse k commettre ce crime; et pourtant. 



1 86 THE RO]V#ANTIC AGONY 

autant que ma victime, je souffrais! Adolescent, pardonne-moi. Une fois sorti 
de cette vie passagte, je veux que nous soyons entrelaces pendant Feternite; n 
former qu*un seui dtre, ma bouche collie k ta bouche. M6me, de cette mani^re 
ma punition ne sera pas complete. Alors, tu me d^chireras, sans jamais t’arretex 
avec les dents et les ongles a la fois. Je parerai mon corps de guirlandes em 
baumees, pour cet holocauste expiatoire; et nous soufFrirons tous les deux, moi 
d’etre dechire, toi, de me d^chirer . . . ma bouche collie a ta bouche. . . Apr^ 
avoir parle ainsi, en meme temps tu auras fait du mal k un 6tre humain, et ti 
seras aime du meme Strej c’est le bonheur le plus grand que Ton puisse con 
cevoir. ... 0 toi, dont je ne veux pas 4 crire le nom sur cette page qui consacre L 
saintete du crime, je sais que ton pardon fut immense comme Tunivers. Mais 
moi, j’existe encore T 

Cf. E, Bossard, and R. de Maulde, GtJ/es de Rats (Paris, Champion, 1886) 
pp. 1 90-1. 

The last of the songs of Maldoror, compared by Pierre-Quint (p. 1 1 7' 
to ^un veritable r^cit rocambolesque, parfois une bouffonnerie, la cancatur< 
des histoires d’Eugene Sue’, is particularly reminiscent of the first chapter 
of Madame Futipkar, 



CHAPTER IV 

LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 


I saw pale kings, and princes too. 

Pale warriors, death-pale were they allj 
Who cry*d — ‘La belle Dame sans merci 
Hath thee in thrall T 

KEATS, La BeEe Dame sans merci. 




CHAPTER rV 

LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 


I. This chapter must begin, like an article in an ency- 
clopedia, with an extremely obvious and bald statement. 
There have always existed Fatal Women both in mytho- 
logy and in literature, since mythology and literature are 
imaginative reflections of the various aspects of real life, 
and real life has always provided more or less complete 
examples of arrogant and cruel female characters. There 
is no need, therefore, to go back to the myth of Lilith,^ to 
the fables of Harpies, Sirens, and Gorgons, of Scylla and 
the Sphinx, or to the Homeric poems. Nevertheless, as a 
reminder that the type was produced so frequently, even 
in classical antiquity, that it became almost an obsession, 
there is the first Chorus of the Choephorae of Aeschylus : 

Many woes, strange and dire, 

Many terrors earth has bred; 

And the sea’s vast embrace hx and wide 
Teems with baleful monsters; 

While from the interspace there flash 
Fiery lightnings that destroy 

The birds and the four-footed beasts; of the hurricane wrath 
Of winds too, marvels might be told. 

But of man’s overbold 
Pride of spirit none may tell. 

Nor of how passion’s wild, reckless power. 

Fraught with human ruin, 

Rules o’er woman’s stubborn mind. 

When perverse rebellious love 

Masters the feminine heart, then destroyed is the union 
Of mated lives for beast or man.^ 

The Chorus is telling of the fatal determination of such 
women as Althaea who murdered her own son; Scylla, 
murderess of her father; Clytemnestra, who, like the 
'^omen of Lemnos, murdered her husband. . . . 

Similar companies of Fatal Women are to be found in 
the literatures of every period, and are of course more 
numerous during times in which the springs of inspiration 



190 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

were troubled. Dante confines himself merely to giving 

the names of these accursed ones : 

La prima di color • . . 

# • • • * 

Fu imperadrice di molte fevelle. 

A vizio di lussuria fu si rotta, 

Che libito fe’ licito in sua legge, 

9 • • * 

Ell’fe Semiramis, di cui si legge 

Che succedette a Nino, e fii sua sposa; 

Tenne la terra che’l Soldan corregge. 

Poi ^ Cleopatrks lussuriosa. 

Elena vidi, per cui tanto reo 
Tempo si volse. . . . 

In the Elizabethan period, however, dramatists took 
their inspiration from the unbridled manners of Renais- 
sance Italy, and figures such as Vittoria Corombona, 
Lucrezia Borgia, and the Comtesse de Challant — ‘white 
devils’ and ‘Insatiate countesses’ — proclaimed from the 
stage their reckless passions, their lecherous loves which 
spread ruin and perdition among men. 

For you Fittoria, your publicke feult, 

Jo3m’d to th’ condition of the present time, 

Takes from you all the fruits of noble pitty. 

Such a corrupted triall have you made 
Both of your life and beauty, and bene stil’d 
No lesse in ominous fate then biasing starres 
To Princes . . . (m. ii. 266—72, Lucas’s text) 

In Webster’s lines, as in those of Aeschylus, the Fatal 
Women shine with all the dark splendour of comets: they 
are like AujairdSc? ireSoopoi, like ‘biasing starres^ 

2. It is natural that a period like the Romantic, which 
reproduces to the point of frenzy some of the character- 
istics of the Elizabethan age, should have its own Alcinas 
and Armidas as well as its Fleurdelys and its Erminias, 
its Vittoria Corombonas as well as its Duchesses of Malfi; 
for actually, whenever it happens that a writer feels ad- 
miration for the passionate energy — particularly if this 
energy have fatal results — of two tj^es of women such as 



LA BELLE DAME ^ANS MERCI 191 

are described below by Saint*-iieuve, it is always the 
diabolical Madame R. who ends by occupying the whole 
stage and causing her angelic rival, Madame de Couaen, to 
appear a mere frail shadow: 

‘J’appris d’abord, dans mes courses lascives, k discerner, ^ pour- 
suivre, ^ redouter et k ddsirer le genre de beautd que j’appellerai 
funeste, celle qui est toujours un piege mortel, jamais un angdlique 
symbole, celle qui ne se peint ni dans I’expression ideale du visage, 
ni dans le miroir des yeux, ni dans les d^licatesses du souris, ni dans 
le voile nuanc6 des paupieres; le visage humain n’est rien, presque 
rien, dans cette beautd; I’ceil et la voix, qui, en se mariant avec 
douceur, sont si voisines de Time, ne font point partie ici de ce 
qu’on d&ire: c’est une beaut^ rtelle, mais accablante et toute de 
chair, qui semble remonter en ligne droite aux filles des premieres 
races d^chues, qui ne se juge point en face et en conversant de 
vive voix, ainsi qu’il convient k I’homme, mais de loin plut6t, sur 
le hasard de la nuque et des reins, comme ferait le coup d’ocil du 
chasseur pour les b^es sauvages: oh! j’ai compris cette beautd-lk. 
J’appris aussi comme cette beautd n’est pas la vraiej qu’elle est 
contraire k I’esprit mfemej qu’elle tue, qu’elle ^crase, mais qu’elle 
n’attache pas. . . 

During the first stage of Romanticism, up till about the 
/middle of the nineteenth century, we meet with several 
Fatal Women in literature,* but there is no established type 
of Fatal Woman in the way that there is an established 
type of Byronic Hero. For a type — ^which is, in actual 
fact, a cliche — to be created, it is essential that some par- 
ticular figure should have made a profound impression on 
-/the popular mind. •'A type is like a neuralgic area. Some 
chronic ailment has created a zone of weakened resistance, 
and whenever an analogous phenomenon makes itself felt 
it immediately confines itself to this predisposed area, 
until the process becomes a matter of mechanical monotony. 

Nevertheless a line of tradition may be traced through 
the characters of these Fatal Women, right from the be- 
ginning of Romanticism. In this pedigree one may say 
-^hat Lewis’s Matilda is at the head of the line: she de- 
velops, on one side, into Vell^da (Chateaubriand) and 
Salammbd (Flaubert), and, on the other, into Carmen 
(M^rimee), Cecily (Sue), and Conchita (Pierre Louys). . . . 
This is an arbitrary arrangement, certainly, but it enables 



192 THE ROM|itNTIC AGONY 

one to make some general remarks which are not without 

significance in the history of taste and manners. 

3. Only a bare mention is necessary in the case of a 
frivolous forerunner of Matilda — although the book found 
favour with the French Romantics — he Diable amoureux, 
by Cazotte (1772), in which Biondetta, dressed up as a 
page (Biondetto), tries to make Don Alvare fall in love with 
her, and, when his resistance is finally vanquished, reveals 
the fact that she is the Devil and leaves him a prey to gro- 
tesque visions. We shall take Matilda, the witch in Lewis’s 
The Monk^ as our starting-point. Lewis denied having 
read he Diable amoureux^ but certain exactly parallel 
passages seem to prove the contrary.'^ 

In the assumed guise of a novice, Matilda — who, at the 
end of the book, turns out to be simply an instrument of 
Satan, though throughout almost the whole of it she en- 
lists the sympathy of the reader for the humanity of her 
passion — succeeds in entering Ambrosio’s monastery and 
in confessing her love to the monk, who till then had had the 
reputation of a saint. Repulsed, she bares her beautiful 
bosom and makes as if to plimge a dagger into it. Lewis’s 
pen was not skilled in voluptuous suggestion, and the 
passage of the monk’s temptation is not without a certain 
awkward nalvet^: 

‘She had tom open her habit, and her bosom was half exposed. 
The weapon’s point rested upon her left breast: and, oh! that was 
such a breast! The moon-beams darting full upon it enabled the 
monk to observe its dazzling whiteness: his eye dwelt with insatiable 
avidity upon that beauteous orb: a sensation till then unknown 
filled his heart with a mixture of anxiety and delight; a raging 
fire shot through every limb; the blood boiled in his veins, and 
a thousand wild wishes bewildered his imagination. “Hold!” he 
cried, in an hurried, Altering voice; “I can resist no longer! Stay 
men, enchantress! Stay for my destmction!” ’ 

As regards her j^jabolical beauty’, it must be admitted 
that Matilda still tends too much towards the type of the 
Alcinas and the Armidas; ‘a chin, in whose dimples 
^seemed to lurk a thousand Cupids’ — like the beauties in 
the epigrams of the Greek Anthology and the pastoral 
scenes of Boucher. But the monk cannot resist Matilda’s 



LA BELLE DAME^ SANS MERCI 193 

eighteenth-century graces, 'w^th the result that every 
morning he ‘rose from the syren’s luxurious couch, intoxi- 
cated with pleasure’. But the character of the ‘Syren’ soon 
becomes imperious, and her graces are veiled with gleams 
of sinister, hellish light when, upon Ambrosio’s falling in 
love with the innocent Antonia, Matilda promises to aid 
him with her magical arts. Her magic frightens the monk, 
and she rebukes him for his superstition and bigotry. The 
vision of Antonia undressing to bathe, which the witch 
causes to appear in a mirror, as in Faust, succeeds in over- 
coming the reluctance of Ambrosio, who again gasps: ‘I 
yield!... Matilda, I follow you! Dowithmewhatyouwill!’ 
So he follows the witch into the crypt ; she clothes herself in 
‘a long sable robe, on which was traced in gold embroidery a variety 
of unknown characters: it was fastened by a girdle of precious 
stones, in which was fixed a poniard. Her neck and arms were 
uncovered; in her hand she bore a golden wand; her hair was loose, 
and flowed wildly upon her shoulders; her eyes sparkled with terrific 
expression; and her whole demeanour was calculated to inspire the 
beholder with awe and admiration.’ 

The witch fashions spells with various ingredients, among 
which is ‘an agnus Dei, which she broke in pieces. She 
threw them all into the flames. She appeared to be seized 
with an access of delirium . . . and drawing the poniard 
from her girdle, plunged it into her left arm’. The blood 
spurts beyond the magic circle. The Devil appears in the 
form of a very beautiful young man, his features overcast 
with melancholy — as is suitable for a fallen angel of the 
Miltonic school (with a touch, also, of Eblis in VatheJi). 
Lucifer gives the witch ‘a silver wand, imitating myrtle’, 
whose touch opens all doors. Further on in the story, 
Matilda becomes ruthless and inhuman; she commands 
the monk to do away with Antonia and, when he hesitates, 
‘Matilda darted upon him a look of scorn. “Absurd!” she 
exclaimed, with an air of passion and majesty which im- 
pressed the monk with awe’. Ambrosio and Matilda fall 
into the hands of the Inquisition, but Matilda escapes, 
thanks to her magic arts, and, dressed in splendid gar- 
ments, visits Ambrosio’s prison-cell: 

‘In her right hand she held a small book: a lively expression of 



194 the ROM^INTIC AGONY 

pleasure beamed upon her coi,ntenance — but still it was mingled 
with a wild imperious majesty, which inspired the monk with awe. 
... “I have renounced God’s service, and am enlisted beneath the 
banners of his foes! . . . Abandon a God who has abandoned you, 
and raise yourself to the level of superior beings!” ’ 

She fflves him the magic book and disappears, like 
Medea/'in a cloud of blue fire’. 

4. Chateaubriand was in London in 1795, the year of 
the publication of The Monk, which he read and appre- 
ciated: he met Lewis twice.® 

.yVell^da, in Les Martyrs, is a patriotic witch. As a 
patriot who preaches resistance against the foreigner, she 
can boast among her antecedents Virgil’s Camilla and 
Tasso’s Clorinda; with the latter she has also in common 
her love-affair with a warrior of the enemy camp. A 
similar, but isolated case (which we need only just mention 
here, since we are dealing with works from the point of 
view of their popularity and of the illustration they offer 
of a dominant taste) is shown in the frenzied Penthesilea of 
Kleist,® which was contemporary with Les Martyrs. If as 
patriot and warrior Vell^da is reminiscent of the heroines 
already mentioned, as a witch she is particularly reminiscent 
of Lewis’s Matilda. This Druidess of Brittany also puts on 
a black sleeveless tunic and performs horrible sacrifices : 

‘VellAk devait ^gorger le vieillard . . . elle s’^tait assise sur un 
triangle de bronze, le vStement en d^rdre, la tSte ^chevel^e, tenant 
un poignard ^ la main, et une torche ilamboyante sous ses pieds.’ 

She falls in love with Eudore and offers him power; 
‘Veux-tu I’empire.? Une Gauloise I’avait promis k Dio- 
ddtien, une Gauloise te le propose. . . .’ She waits for her 
beloved among the rocks: 

‘Mon bonheur a moi [says EudoreJ ressemblait au d^sespoir, 
et quiconque nous efit vus au milieu de notre ftlicitd nous eClt pris 
pour deux coupables k qui I’on vient de prononcer I’arrSt fetal. Dans 
ce moment, je me sentis marque du sceau de la reprobation divine . . . 
le langage de I’enfer s’&happa naturellement de ma bouche . . .’ 

The seduction of Eudore by the pagan Velldda is a 
parallel case with the seduction of Ambrosio by the witch 
'matilda. On her father’s death, Velldda kills herself with 
a golden sickle; here Chateaubriand leaves the English 



LA BELLE DAM^ SANS MERCI 195 

writer and approaches neare« to Virgil and Tasso. His 
particular type of sensual feeling demands the death of the 
heroine: 

‘Aussit&t elle porte a, sa gorge I’^strument sacr^: le sang jaillit. 
Comma une moissonneuse qui a fini son ouvrage et qui s’endort 
fiitiguee au bout du sillon, Velldda s’affaisse sur le char . . 

The family likeness between Matilda and Velldda 
escaped Baldensperger in the essay which has already been 
quoted more than once; but the connexion between 
Chateaubriand’s heroine and Flaubert’s Salammbb was 
'noticed by Sainte-Beuve and has been made quite obvious 
by Benedetto,’’ to whose observations no addition is 
needed. In order, however, to illustrate the admiration 
which Flaubert professed for the story of Velldda (‘quelle 
belle chose, quelle podsie!’ he said in one of his letters), 
attention may perhaps be drawn to certain traits in the 
character of Julietta in his early work. Rive d'enfer{i 837), 
in which the girl falls in love with the unfeeling Arthur 
d’Almaroes, ‘d’un amour d^chirant, entier, satanique. 
C’etait bien un amour inspird par I’enfer’. Julietta, cer- 
tainly, is a sister of Margaret in Faust., but her waiting for 
her beloved among the rocks, the way in which she im- 
plores, and then surrenders herself to, an unfeeling man, 
have the colouring of Chateaubriand and the sharp flavour 
of his sensual feeling. Julietta, in any case, is not a Fatal 
Woman, nor indeed could she be, in a period in which the 
Byronic superman — ^which is exactly the type of Arthur — 
|was dominant. In SalammM, on the other hand, the atmos- 
phere is changed; it is the woman who becomes frigid, 
unfeeling, fatal, idol-like; the man pines with passion and 
falls at her feet like a fakir at the feast of Juggernaut. 

— -j'^JM^rimde satirized the episode of the seduction of 
Ambrosio by Matilda in the comedy UtK Femme est un 
diable (in the Theatre de Clara Gazul, TBzT ). ‘Mon ime 
est tout entiere k cette femme. Sflrement Satan prit cette 
figure pour tenter mon bienheureux patron’, says the 
monk Antoine, who has been troubled, during his con- 
valescence from a dangerous illness, by the sight of Mari- 
quita.8 Mariquita, a burlesque anticipation of Carmen and 
of Esm eralda in N otre-Dame de Paris (1831), is brought 



196 THE ROM^TIC AGONY 

before the tribunal of the Invjuisition to be tried by Antoine 
as a -witch (‘une sorci^re, une femme qui a fait un pacte 
avec le diable’). When the monk asks her -what her pro- 
jfession is, ‘Diable 1 ’ she replies, ‘je ne sais trop que vous 
dire . . . je chante, je danse, je joue des castagnettes, etc., 
etc.' Mariquita is in love with a Scottish corporal — z 
character which obviously suggested that of Phoebus in 
Notre-Dame. The scene of the tribunal, -with the scarecrow 
background of the torture-chamber, is conceived in the 
spirit of a ballet; Merim^e does not allow himself to take 
these things seriously or to be sentimental about them, and 
he skims humorously over the real attraction he must have 
felt for the subject. The soliloquy of the lovesick monk is 
pure parody. The effigy of the Madonna he thinks to be 
that of Mariquita (see above, p. 180). ‘J’^lfeverai une 
famille pieuse,’ the monk promises, ‘et cela sera aussi 
agr^able k Dieu que la fumde de nos bhchers.’ The farce 
reaches its climax when Antoine is surprised and rebuked 
by Fray Rafael, who, also, is prompted by intentions which 
are anything but holy. Antoine overcomes Rafael, who 
dies with a derisive laugh, ‘Mes priferes! ... ha, ha, ha! .. . 
m’y voila!’ and Mariquita concludes: ‘En voyant cette fin 
tragique vous direz, je crois, avec nous qu’uNE femme est 

UN DIABLE.’ 

A much more formidable she-devil, and one who was 
destined for immortal fame, is M^rim^e’s other gipsy-girlV 
(and, of course, ‘sorcifcre’). Carmen. ‘Tu es un diable’, says 
Don Jos^ to her, as she kisses him. To which she replies 
"with a ‘Oui’ which is a masterpiece of categorical irony. 
Though M^rim^e confessed, in a letter of May 1 6th, 1 845, 
to the Comtesse de Montijo, that he had taken the char- 
acter of Don Jos6 from a certain ‘Jaque de Malaga qui 
avait tu6 sa maitresse’, whose story the Countess had told 
him fifteen years before, he added: ‘Comme j’6tudie les 
Boh6miens depuis quelque temps, avec beaucoup de soin, 
j’ai fait mon heroine Boh6mienne.’ 

Althoi^h related in many respects to Mariquita (here 
the Inquisitorial threat of torture for witchcraft has be- 
come a threat of imprisonment for brawling; Antoine kills 
Ra&el and then escapes with Mariquita, Don Jos6 kills 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 197 

the officer and escapes with Cdrmen; ‘En une heure je suis 
devenu fornicateur, perjure, assassin’, says the monk; 
‘C’est pour toi que je suis devenu un voleur et un meur- 
trier’, says the bandit to Garden), Carmen has only a 
vague affinity of type with the original Matilda; for the 
relations with the infernal powers are substituted ‘les 
affaires d’Egypte’, and on the whole, apart from diabolical 
feminine fascination (‘Je te I’ai dit que je te porterais 
malheur’) and a violence of passion which makes the man 
lose all regard for his own social position, the two stories 
develop in very different ways. 

It was M^rimde who localized in Spain the type of the 
Fatal Woman which towards the end of the century came 
to be placed more generally in Russia: the exotic and the 
erotic ideals go hand in hand, and this fact also contributes 
another proof of a more or less obvious truth — that is, that 
a love of the exotic is usually an imaginative projection of 
a sexual desire.^ This is very dear in such cases as those 
of Gautier and Flaubert, whose dreams carry them to 
an atmosphere of barbaric and Oriental antiquity, where 
all the most unbridled desires can be indulged and the 
cruellest fantasies can take concrete form.'f 

6. Cecily, the diabolical creole of the Mysthres de Paris^ 

‘cette grande cr&le k la fois svelte et charnue, vigoureuse et souple 
comme une panthfere, 6tait le type incarne de la sensuality briilante 
qui ne s’allume qu’aux feux des tropiques. Tout le monde a en- 
tendu parler de ces filles de couleur pour ainsi dire mortelles aux 
Europyens, de ces vampires enchanteurs qui, enivrant leur victime 
de syductions terribles, pompent jusqu’k la dernibre goutte d’or et 
de sang,* et ne lui laissent, selon I’ynergique expression du pays, que 
larmes ct hoire^ que son caeur d ranger. Telle est Cydly . . . Au 
lieu de se jeter violemment sur sa proie, et de ne songer, comme ses 
pareilles, qu’k anyantir au plus t&t une vie et une fortune de plus, 
Cydly, attachant sur ses victimes son regard magnytique, com- 
men^ait par les attirer peu peu dans le tourbillon embrasy qui 
iemblait ymaner d’elle; puis, les voyant alors pantelantes, yperdues, 
iouffrant les tortures d’un dysir inassouvi, elle se plaisait, par un 
raffinement de coquetterie fyroce, h prolonger leur dyiire ardent; 
3uis, revenant k son premier instinct, elle les dyvorait dans ses 
:mbrassements homicides. 

‘Cela ytait plus terrible encore . . 



198 THE ROM/-NTIC AGONY 

The simile used by Sue a'i this point is so very common- 
place that it is easily recognizable as a stock detail of the 
traditional description of the Fatal Woman : 

‘Le tigre a£Eime, qui bond't et emporte la proie qu’il d&hire 
en rugissant, inspire moins d’horreur que le serpent qui la fascine 
silencieusement, I’aspire peu ^ peu, I’enlace de ses replis inextricables, 
I’y broie longuement, la sent palpiter sous ses lentes morsures, et 
semble se repaltre autant de ses douleurs que de son sang.’ 

Sue’s creole had already played all sorts of pranks in 
Germany, to such an extent as to have deserved perpetual 
imprisonment; she had displayed ‘une corruption digne 
des reines courtisanes de I’ancienne Rome’. And yet her 
black soul can be moved by the misfortunes of Louise 
(who was raped in her sleep by Jacques Ferrand and then 
arrested for infanticide — an episode analogous to Nodier’s 
Histoire Helene Gillet and to Borel’s Monsieur de VArgen- 
tilre)d^ through one of those humanitarian sentimentalisms 
so dear to the heart of Sue. Cdcily swears to avenge Louise, 
and succeeds, disguised as a chambermaid, in gaining 
admission to the lawyer’s house (is this perhaps a remini- 
scence of Matilda effecting her entrance into the monas- 
tery dressed as a novice?). 

‘Les femmes de I’espbce de Cdcily exercent une action soudaine, 
une omnipotence magique sur les hommes de sensualitd brutale tels 
que Jacques Ferrand. Du premier regard ils devinent ces femmes, 
ils les convoitent; une puissance fetale les attire aupr^ d’elles, et 
bientbt des affinity mystdrieuses, des sympathies magndtiques sans 
doute, les enchalnent invinciblement aux pieds de leur monstrueux 
ideal; carellesseulespeuventapaiser les feuximpursqu’ellesallument.’ 

In the lawyer’s house there take place those ‘scenes pria- 
piques’ which finally alienated Sainte-Beuve from the 
work of Sue.“ Cdcily’s sole aim is to inflame the lawyer’s 
passion without satisfying it; she has with her a poisoned 
dagger with which to defend herself. She incites the 
elderly libertine to be as fierce as a tiger, in order to please 
her; she exasperates him by singing creole airs with pas- 
sionate words (‘. . . Ceux que j’aime comme je t’aime . . . 
je les tue’). As a proof of his love the lawyer promises to 
reveal a secret which, if known, would bring him to the 
gallows; ‘Ma tgte potjr tes caresses, veux-tu?’ ‘Ah! voili 



LA BELLE DAME- SANS MERCI 199 

done de la passion enfinl’ excliims Cecily, who asks him 
repeatedly whether it is really tt-ue that he has committed 
crimes. After he has told hereabout them (‘Je serai ton 
tigre, s’toia-t-il, et apr^s, si tu 1»' veux, tu me d^honoreras, 
tu feras tomber ma tfete. . . Cecily exclaims : ‘Oh! d^mon 
. . . d’enfer • . . tu m’dpouvantes et pourtant tu m’attires . . . 
tu me passionnes. . . . Quel est done ton pouvoir ?’ Ferrand 
also gives Cecily a pocket-book containing the proof of his 
guilt, and she, having thus accomplished her humanitarian^ 
purpose, escapes by the window. The lawyer becomes a 
victim of satyriasis and dies, after frightful hallucinations : 
the influence of the Memoires du Die^le is obvious here. 

‘Parti de R4tif et mAme de de Sade, M. Sue est en voie d’aboutir 
au Saint Vincent de Paul en passant par le Ducray-DuminiL’ 

So speaks a critic quoted by Sainte-Beuve. The humani- 
does nothing more than gild the pill, the 
se being an aphrodisiac of the grossest 

7. The type of the fatal allumeuse was very widespread, 
and though it may be too arbitrary to try always to trace it 
to literary models such as Matilda, Carmen, or even 
Cdcily — ^for, after all, it is a type of which examples are not 
so very rare even in actual lire — it is, on the other hand, 
quite easy to discover elements of these characters in such 
figures as Rosalba ‘la Pudica’ (Barbey d’Aurevilly, A un 
diner d'athees), in Conchita (who is Carmen and Cecily 
rolled into one),!^ and in the innumerable other creations 
of the lower grades of Romanticism (e.g. the androgynous 
Princess d’Este in Pdadan's Fice supreme (1884), with 
her murderous chastity — ‘bourreau de marbre’, Barbey 
d’Aurevilly calls her; the perverse Eliana in Piccolo veleno 
color di rosa^ by Corrado Govoni (1921), and so on). It is a 
type, as we have already said, which, Spanish or creole in 
origin, ends by modelling itself on the women of Dostoiev-^ 
'/'sky, among whom Nastasia Filippovna is the most charac- 
teristic example. For instance, in the recently published 
Ariane,jeune fille russe, by Claude Anet, one can recognize 
a Russianized Conchita. And in any case Conchita herself, 
with her enigmatic nature, is already influenced by the 


tarian purpose 
pill in this ca 
kind. 



300 


THE ROMAKTIC AGONY 
psychology of the Slav woman. Again, while the sadistic 
Clara of Mirbeau’s Jardiri des supplices is, according to 
the recipe of the period,i3 an Englishwoman, we find that 
in Maurice Dekobra’s M^done des sleepings the role of 
Clara is sustained by a Russian, ‘Irina Mouravieff, la Mar- 
quise de Sade de la Russie rouge’.^^ 

In Fatal Women of this kind, however, we shall not 
always find such characteristics as make reference to a 
clichi indisputable i but such characteristics are certainly 
to be found in a type of Fatal Woman which is more highly 
penetrated with aestheticism and exoticism, the type 
which arose with Gautier and Flaubert, which had its full 
-development in Swinburne, and which then passed to 
Walter Pater, to Wilde, to D’Annunzio — ^to quote only a 
few of the most representative names. 

8. We have already referred to the significance of 
exoticism, and repeat here the just remark made by Brie,^5 
to the effect that there is a certain resemblance between the 
^exoticist and the mystic. The latter projects himself out- 
side the visible world into a transcendental atmosphere 
where he unites himself with the Divinity; the former 
transports himself in imagination outside the actualities of 
time and space, and thinks that he sees in whatever is past 
and remote from him the ideal atmosphere for the con- 
tentment of his own senses: 

‘II se berce dans quelque inexprimable rSverie orientale toute 
pleine de reflets d’or, imprdgn^e de parfums etranges et retentis- 
sante de bruits joyeux; il y ddveloppe des sentiments d’ 616 gance, de 
fiertd et de sensuality, et, au lieu de se dire que par leur nature 
mSme de tels ^tats demeurent intyrieurs, il pense qu’il les trouvera 
ryalisys dans d’autres lieux.’ 

Thus Barrfes.^ ® Actually it is a question of starting from 
the same sensual basis and arriving at opposite points ; for, 
while true mysticism tends to the negation both of ex- 
pression and of art, exoticism, of its own nature, tends to a 
sensual and artistic externalization.j The first culminates 
in a world which cannot be described, the second succeeds 
to such an extent in making itself concrete in an atmos- 
phere remote in time or space (or both) that it gives the 
artist the illusion of an actual former existence in the 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI ioi 

atmosphere he loves. I do not sliare the theory of Bremond, 
according to which poetry is aA imperfect form of mysti- 
cism, a phenomenon of the samanature as ecstasy, or rather 
ecstasy itself arrested in its « purse. But between the 
mystic who denies the world of the senses and the exoticist 
who affirms its existence, between the mystic who empties 
his universe of all material content and the exoticist who 
invests remote periods and distant countries with the 
vibration of his own senses and materializes them in his 
imagination, there is certainly a similarity of purpose; both 
transfer the fulfilment of their desires to an ideal, a dream 
world; both, in order to bring about the necessary con- 
editions for the intense realization of their dream, generally 
resort to stimulants, such as fasts and vigils in the case of 
the mystic, opium or other narcotics in the case of the 
exoticist. 

Every artist is, in a certain general and provisional 
sense, an exoticist, inasmuch as he projects himself in 
imagination outside the immediate present. However, I 
do not wish to speak here of this generic exoticism, which 
can be documented in all periods and all literatures, but 
rather of the specific exoticism which feeds upon a par- 
ticular cultural atmospiere, anH^ in this type or exoticism 
(of which a conspicuous example occurred in Humanism), 
only of that which flourished in the Romantic period.,’' 
Brie notes the first signs of it in Heinse (Ardinghello, 
aijd in Beckftjrd (Fathek, 1782; Dreams^ Waking TKoughts 
and Incidents^ tn a Series of betters, 1783);* he does not 
quote Wackenroder {Herzenser^essungen eines kunstlieben- 
den Klosterbrudersy 1797) and Keats. 

Keats is especially noteworthy, because in him are to 
be found the seeds of various elements which were to be 
developed later by the Pre-Raphaelites and which, through 
them, were to pass into French Symbolism. Keats wrot^: 

r ‘According to my state of mind I am with Achilles shouting in 
Ahe trenches, or with Theocritus in the vales of Sicily. Or I throw 
my whole being into Troilus, and repeating those lines, “I wander 
like a lost soul upon the Stygian banks staying for waftage”, I melt 
into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to 
be alone.’ 



202 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

This sort of ecstasy (if ahe may use in a wider sense a 
term which in the language of hiysticism has a precise 
technical meaning) is th« -ecstasy of the-^exoticist; the 
exoticist, who is an ‘ecsmtic’ — ^an exile from his own 
'present and actual self — is also endowed with a sort of 
-metaphysical intuition which discerns, behind the complex 
outward appearances of things, the permanence of a 
unique essence:/ 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird ! 

No hungry generations tread thee down; 

The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
In ancient days by emperor and clown: 

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 

She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 

The same that oft-times hath 
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 

We find a similar intuition in De Quincey, when, in 
describing the Mater Lachrymarum (in Levana and Our 
Ladies of Sorrow, 1 845) he imagines this allegorical figure 
present in Rama, where there is heard the lamentation of 
Rachel weeping for her children; at Bethlehem, among 
the massacred Innocents; in the chamber of the Tsar, and 
so on: 

‘By the power of the keys it is that our Lady of Tears glides 
a ghostly intmder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless 
women, sleepless children, from Ganges to the Nile, firom Nile to 
Mississippi. . . . Her eyes are swift and subtle, wild and sleepy, by 
turn, oftentimes rising to the clouds, oftentimes challenging the 
heavens. She wears a diadem round her head.’ 

The mag^l, metaphorical meaning which Keai^found 
in the song^f the nightingale (Ode to a Nightingale) was 
[applied by the aesthetes, from Gautier downwards, to 
jfemale beauty, as we shall see shortly. Keats himself gave 
a hint of a similar application of it in La Belle Dame sans 
merci, a poem which in the magical, painful mystery it 
expresses (the subject is obviously that of TannhSuser) 
contains in embryo the whole world of the Pre-Raphaelites 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 203 

and the Symbolists, from S^^" 1 ^urne’s Laus Veneris to 
certain pictures by Moreau. 

I saw pale kings, and piinces too, 

Pale warriors, death-yale were they all; 

Who cry’d — ‘La belle Dame sans merci 
Hath thee in thrall.’ 

In the Laus Veneris Swinburne is merely embroidering 
variations upon the theme of the Eternal Feminine dis- 
/guised as Fate, who, as in one of PetrardfsTTm;?^, drags, 
chained to her chariot, heroes of all times and all lands. 
There are no more than hints of this attitude to be found 
in Keats and Coleridge^? — ^^vho were, above all, true poets, 
not sensation-collectors as real exoticists generally are. 

In the previous edition I introduced at this point the 
figure of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, based on Wilde’s 
interpretation in the essay Pen, Pencil and Poison-, this 
interpretation, according to which Wainewright is caused 
to appear as a forerunner of Wilde himself, has been 
challenged by J. Curling (in Janus Weathercock, The Life 
of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, 17^4-1847, London, 
Nelson, 1938, p. 78).^® That Wainewright had the soul of 
an artist and a voluptuous dilettante is shown, however, by 
the description of his rooms which can be seen on pp. 207— 

1 7 of Curling’s volume: those rooms were decorated with 
ill the refinement of an aesthete. 

(g. Th^ophile Gautier is the true and genuine founder 
of exotic aestheticism — one might almost say, of the 
school of exotic aestheticism, for the exoticists during the 
whole course of the century can be seen coming back to 
him, directly or indirectly, for their inspiration. 

I shall deal here with exoticism only in relation to the 
subject of this chapter, and therefore refer my readers to 
Erie’s volume for a fuller treatment; nevertheless, besides 
the passages from Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835—6),^ 
and from Fortunio (i8j^), some others must also be 
added from Une Nuit de Cleopdtre (1845), in which, 
against an exotic background, minutely described as 
though in an inventory, stands out the figure of La Belle 
Dame sans merci, the Fatal Woman: 

‘Notre monde est bien petit k cote du monde antique, nos fdtes 



204 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

sont mesquines aupres des eSfayantes somptuositfe des patriciens 
remains et des princes asiatiqu/s . • . Nous avons peine k concevoir, 
avec nos habitudes miserablesj^bes existences enormes, r&Iisant tout 
ce que I’imagination peut injenter de hardi, d’etrange et de plus 
monstrueusement en dehors oa possible . . . 

‘Aujourd’hui, prive de ce spectacle eblouissant de la volonte 
toute-puissante,i^> de cette haute contemplation d’une ime humaine 
dont le moindre d&ir se traduit en actions inouies, en enormitfe 
de granit et d’airain, le monde s’ennuie eperdument et d&esp^r^- 
ment; Phomme n’est plus repr&ente dans sa fantaisie imp^riale , . , 
Le spectacle du monde antique est quelque chose de si ^crasant, de 
si d^courageant pour les imaginations qui se croient efFr6nees et les 
esprits qui pensent avoir atteint aux dernieres limites de la magni- 
ficence fterique, que nous n’avons pu nous emp^cher de consigner 
ici nos doleances et nos tristesses de n’avoir pas ete contemporain 
de Sardanapale, de Teglath Phalazar, de Cl&pitre, reine d’figypte, 
ou seulement d’Heliogabale, empereur de Rome et prStre du Soleil, 

‘Nous avons k d&rire une orgie supreme, un festin k faire pdlir 
celui de Balthasar, une nuit de Cleopitre. Comment, avec la langue 
fran^aise, si chaste, si glacialement prude, rendrons-nous cet em- 
portement frdnetique, cette large et puissante debauche qui ne craint 
pas de m^ler le sang et le vin, ces deux pourpres, et ces furieux 61ans 
de la volupt^ inassouvie se ruant k Fimpossible avec toute I’ardeur 
de sens que le long jeune chr6tien n’a pas encore mates 

•Cleopatra was one of the first Romantic incarnations of 
the type of the Fatal Woman — ^thanks to a short passage 
in the Liier de viris illustrihus (86,2): ‘Haec tantae libidinis 
fuit, nt Sffipe prostiterit, tantae pulchritudinis ut multi 
noctem illius morte emerint/ Cleopatra, in fact, did what 
^Semiramis had done,^^ what Marguerite de Bourgogne 
did later: 


la royne 

Qui commanda que Buridan 
Fuct gect6 en ung sac en Saine^* — 

she massacred in the morning the lovers who had passed 
^the night with her, Gautier had already said, in Made-‘ 
moiselle de Maupin*?^ 

‘Ah! Cleopitre, je comprends maintenant pourquoi tu faisais 
tuer, le matin, Famant avec qui tu avais passe la nuit — Sublime 
cruaut^, pour qui, autrefois, je n’avais pas assez d’imprecations! 
Gmnde voluptueuse, comme tu connaissais la nature humaine, et 
qu’il y a de profondeur dans cette barbaric!’ 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 205 

Cleopatra combined a fabulous Oriental background 
with a taste for algolagnia, wVich, as we have seen in 
the previous chapter, seemed t(| be in the very air of the 
Romantic period. So much in me air was it that even the 
worthy Dumas made use of the theme of a massacre of 
/lovers in the Tour de Nesle (1832), though in an inno- 
cent enough fashion. So much in the air was it that even 
in distant /Russia, whither the currents of Romanticism/ 
had already penetrated, Pushkiji, as early as iSjJ, had 
published as a fragment a description of a ‘night of Cleo- 
/patra’. Three men, a Roman warrior, an Epicurean 
philosopher, and a youth, respond to the Queen’s offer to 
-prostitute herself for the price of a man’s life: the plan of 
the story was that the first two should be put to death but 
the third spared. Pushkin included this fragment in his 
Egyptian Nights (1835), putting it into the mouth of an 
Italian improwisatore, with the title (in Italian) of Cleopatra 
e i suoi amanti. 

In Gautier’s story Cleopatra grants the enjoyment of 
this particular night to the extremely beautiful young lion- 
.Aunter, Meiamoun; she dances for him, and is on the 
point of preventing him from drinking the cup of poison 
when the arrival of Mark Antony seals the young man’s 
fate. Certain element of the story should be noticed. The 
xfoung man is beautifol, wild, and chaste, and fajk in love 
with Cleopatra because she is unattainable; Cleopatra is 
suffering from ennui; she is a ‘reine sid6rale’ of irresistible 
charm (‘chaque regard de ses yeux ^tait un pobme 
sup^rieur k ceux d’Homfere ou de Mimnerme ’),24 and the 
knowledge of her body is an end in itself, beyond which 
life has nothing to offer; Cleopatra, like the praying 
mantis, kills the male whom she loves. These are elements 
which were destined to become permanent characteristics 
of the type of Fatal Woman of whom we are speaking 
In accordance with this conception of the Fatal Woman, 
the lover is usually a youth, and maintains a passive atti- 
tude; he is obscure, and inferior either in condition or in 
physical exuberance to the woman, who stands in the same 
relation to him as do the female spider, the praying mantis, 
&c., to their respective males: sexual cannibalism is her 



2o6 the romantic AGONY 

monopoly. Towards the |;nd of the century the perfect 
incarnation of this type oftwoman is Herodias. But she is 
not the only one : Helen, the Helen of Moreau, of Samain, 
of Pascoli (Anticlo), closay resembles her. The ancient 
myths, such as that of th* Sphinx, of Venus and Adonis, 
of Diana and Endymion, were called in to illustrate this 
type of relationship, which was to be so insistently re- 
peated in the second half of the century. The following 
point must be emphasized : the function of the flame which 
attracts and burns is exercised, in the flrst half of the 
century, by the Fatal Man (the Byronic hero), in the 
second half by the Fatal Woman ; the moth destined for 
sacrifice is in the first case the woman, in the second the 
man. It is not simply a case of convention and literary 
fashion: literature, even in its most artificial forms, reflects 
to some extent aspects of contemporary life. It is curious 
to follow the parabola of the sexes during the nineteenth 
century: the obsession for the androgyne type towards the 
end of the century is a clear indication of a turbid con- 
fusion of function and ideal. The male, who at first tends 
towards sadism, inclines, at the end of the century, to- 
wards masochism. 

The character of Herodias, moreover, is already sug- 
gested in Gautier’s Cleopatra; 

‘Cl&)pitre elle-mSme se leva de son trone, rejeta son manteau 
royal, remplaga son diad^e sid6ral par une couronne de ileurs, 
ajusta des crotales d’or ^ ses mains d’alMtre, et se mit k danser 
devant Meiamoun ^erdu de ravissement. Ses beaux bras arrondis 
comme les arises d’un vase de marbre, secouaient au-dessus de sa 
t€te des grappes de notes etincelantes, et ses crotales babillaient avec 
une volubility toujours croissante. Debout sur la pointe vermeille 
de ses petits pieds, elle avan 9 ait rapidement et venait effleurer d’un 
baiser le front de Meiamoun, puis elle recommengait son manege 
et voltigeait autour de lui, tantbt se cambrant en arribre, la tbte 
renversbe, I’oeil demi-clos, les bras pimbs et morts, les cheveux db- 
bouclbs et pendants comme une bacchante du mont M6nale agitbe 
par son dieu; tantbt leste, vive, rieuse, papillonnante, infetigable et 
plus capricieuse en ses mbandres que I’abeille qui butine. L’amour 
du cceur, la volupte des sens, la passion ardente, la jeunesse in- 
ypuisable et frdche, la promesse du bonheur prochain, elle expri- 
mait tout’ 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 207 

lo. It is not only in the ^uit de Cleopdtre^^^ among 
Gautier’s works, that woman b®th proposes and disposes, 
Nyssia, in he Rot Candauky is! a kind of oriental Lady 
Macbeth; and that Gautier had tlie Scottish virago in mind 
is proved by this reminiscent passage: 

‘ — J^aurais beau, dit-elle en laissant tomber les tissus humides et 
en renvoyant ses suivantes, verser sur moi toute Teau des sources 
et des fleuves, TOc^an avec ses goufFres amers ne pourrait me 
purifier. Une pareille tache ne se lave qu’avec du sang. ’^7 

Nyssia is a Fatal Woman. This is the effec^ro^i^cL 
upon Gyges by the sight of her: 

‘II avait it6 plut&t ebloui, fascin^, foudroy^ en quelque sorte, 
que charm6 par cette apparition surhumaine, par ce monstre de 

beaut^ La perfection portee k ce point est toujours inquietante, 

et les femmes si semblables aux deesses ne peuvent qu’etre fatales 
aux faibles mortels; elles sont cr^^es pour les adulteres celestes, 
et les hommes, mSme les plus courageux, ne se hasardent qu’en 
tremblant dans de pareilles amours. ... Si une seule fois elle traversait 
les rues de Sardes le visage d^couvert, vous auriez beau tirer vos 
adorateurs par le pan de leur tunique, aucun d’eux ne retournerait 
la t^te. ... Ils iraient se pr6cipiter sous les roues d’argent de son char 
pour avoir la volupte d’etre 6cras6s par elle, comme ces divots de 
rindus qui pavent de leurs corps le chemin de leur idole.’ 

, Her eyes are fabulous: some maintain that she has 
double pupils to each eye, like those of the fatal hero in 
Maxime et Zoe^ one of the ballads in Merim^e’s La Guz/a: 

‘Pour un de ces regards on eut trempe les mains dans le sang 
de son h6te, disperse aux quatre vents les cendres de son pere, 
renverse les saintes images des dieux et vole le feu du del comme 
Promethfe, le sublime larron, Cependant leur expression la plus 
ordinaire, il faut le dire, etait une chastete d&esperante, une froi- 
deur sublime, une ignorance de toute possibilite de passion humaine, 
k faire parattre les yeux de clair de lune de Phoeb6 et les yeux vert 
de mer d’Ath^n^ plus lubriques et plus provoquants que ceux d’une 
jeune fille de Babylone sacrifiant k la deesse Mylitta dans Penceinte 
de cordes de Succoth-Benolh. — Leur virginite invincible paraissait 
defier Pamour,’ 

Nyssia, to avenge the outrage committed against her by 
her husband, who has betrayed her secrecy to the eyes of 
Gyges, insists upon the death of one of the two men and 
imposes upon Gyges, who is an ordinary captain of the 



2o8 the romantic AGONY 

King’s guard, either to kill jCandaules or to prepare himself 

for death : 

*Ce sera toi ou Candaule, le te laisse maltre du choix. Tue*Ie, 
venge moi, et conquiers par (fe meurtre et ma main et le tr6ne de 
Lydie. . . . Pense que je te fe^i roi de Sardes et que . . . je t’aimerai 
si tu me venges. Le sang de Candaule sera ta pourpre et sa mort te 
fera une place dans ce lit.’ 

In vain Gyges implores her clemency: 

‘ — Si tu parlais k un Sphinx de granit dans les sables arides de 
rfigypte, tu aurais plus de chances de Tattendrir. . . . Un coeur 
d’airain habite ma poitrine de marbre. , . . Meurs ou tue!’ 

The man submits, and she conducts him to the place 
where he is to kill her husband: 

‘La main qui tenait celle de Gyges ^tait froide, douce et petite; 
cependant ces doigts d^li& la serraient k la meurtrir comme eussent 
pu le faire les doigts d’une statue d’airain anim^e par un prodige.’ 

These ‘doigts d’une statue d’airain’ recall immediately 
the fierce Fhus d^Ille of M^rim^e (1837), also a Fatal 
Woman, who suffocated in her arms of bronze the young 
bridegroom, who — according to an old legend of the 
Middle Ages — ^had committed the imprudence of placing 
a wedding-ring on her finger.* M^rim^e gave the old 
legend the colour of those cruel vampire stories which he 
had already told in La Guzla^ and depicted Venus with all 
the attributes of the Fatal Woman : 

‘Tous les traits etaient contract^ legerement, les yeux un peu 
obliques, la bouche relev^e des coins, les narines quelque peu 
gonfldes. D^dain, ironie, cruaut^, se lisaient sur ce visage, d’une 
incroyable beaut^ cependant, En v6rit6, plus on regardait cette 
admirable statue et plus on ^prouvait le sentiment penible qu’une 
si merveilleuse beaut6 put s’allier k I’absence de toute sensibility. 

‘ — Si le modele a jamais exists, dit-je k M. de Peyrehorade, et 
je doute que le ciel ait jamais produit une telle femme, que je plains 
ses amants! Elle a dii se complaire k les feire mourir de desespoir. 
II y a dans son expression quelque chose de ftroce, et pourtant je 
n’ai jamais vu rien de si beau. 

‘ — C’est Vynus tout entiere k sa proie attachye! s’ycria M. 
Peyrehorade, satisfeit de mon enthousiasme.’ 

In La Morte amoureuse Gautier also told the story of a 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 209 

vampire, drawing his chief inspiration from Goethe’s 
Eraut von Corinth'. ^ 

‘I am urged forth from the grav^ to seek the joy which was 
snatched from me, to love again the 'man I once lost and to suck 
his heart’s blood. When he is ruined,^! must pass on to others, and 
young men shall succumb to my fiiry.’ 

In Gautier/the vampire 3a£Qman is the lovely courtesan 
Clarimonde, who falls in love with a young priest; his kiss 
upon her corpse has the same eifect as the ring in the 
Venus d’llle^ restoring to life the courtesan, who has died 
‘k la suite d’une orgie qui a durd huit jours et huit nuits’, 
according to the words of the Abbd Sdrapion, who adds: 

‘^’a 6t^ quelque chose d’infernalement splendide. On a renou- 
vel6 les abominations des festins de Balthasar et de Cl&pttre. . . . 
II a count de tout temps sur cette Clarimonde de bien Stranges 
histoires, et tous ses amants ont fini d’une maniere miserable ou 
violente. On a dit que c’^tait une goule, un vampire femellej mais 
je crois que c’etait Belz6buth en personne. ... Ce n’est pas, k ce 
qu’on dit, la premibre fois qu’elle est morte.’ 

The character of Clarimonde is strongly reminiscent of 
Beatrice de las Cisternas, the Bleeding Nun of Lewis, 
whose orgies ‘vied in luxury with Cleopatra’s’. 

The priest leads a double life: a priest by day, he be- 
comes by night the lover of Clarimonde at Venice.^® But 
Clarimonde languishes and is about to die, when, Romuald 
having by accident cut his finger, 

‘le sang partit aussitot en filets pourpres, et quelques gouttes rejail- 
lirent sur Clarimonde. Ses yeux s’bclairbrent, sa physionomie prit 
une expression de joie fbroce et sauvage que je ne lui avais jamais 
vue. Elle sauta k bas du lit avec une agilitb animale, une agilite 
de singe ou de chat, et se precipita sur ma blessure qu’elle se mit 
k sucer avec un air d’indicible voluptb.’ 

‘Melons des voluptds a la mort’, said Chateaubriand. 

1 1 . The fascination of beautiful women already dead,^ 
especially if they had been great courtesans, wanton 
queens, or famous sinners, the idea which suggested to 
Villon the ballad of the dames du temps jadis^ suggested 
to the Romantics, probably under the influence of the 
vampire legend, 3 ° the figure of the Fatal Woman who 
was successively incarnate in all ages and all lands, an 

p 



310 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

archetype which united in. itself all forms of seduction, all 
'^ces, and all delights. G^atier alludes to this figure in his 
study upon the hand of tUe courtesan Imperia, in Emaux 
et camies ^"i): t 

A-t-elle jou^tdans les boudes 
Des cheveux lustr& de Don Juan, 

Ou sur son caftan d’escarboucles 
Peign^ la barbe du Sultan, 

Et tenu, courtisane ou reine, 

Entre ses doigts si bien sculpt^, 

Le sceptre de la souveraine 
Ou le sceptre des volupt&p 
• • • * 

Imp^riales fantaisies. 

Amour des somptuosit&; 

Voluptueuses fren&ies, 

R^ves d’impossibilit^s, 

Romans extravagants, poemes 
De haschisch et de vin du Rhin, 

Courses folles dans les bohemes 
Sur le dos des coursiers sans frein; 

On voit tout cek dans les lignes 
De cette paume, livre blanc 
Oti V^nus a trace des signes 
Que Famour ne lit qu’en tremblant^i 

In NovembrCy^^ Flaubert is conscious of this fullness of 
sensual experience in the courtesan Marie, who, stretched 
naked beside him, suggested to him, in the lines of her 
body, *je ne sais quelle forme souple et corrompue de ser- 
pent et de d^mon’, and who pressed her mouth upon his 
neck Y fouillant avec d’Spres baisers, comme une bSte 
fauve au ventre de sa victime' : 

‘Comme elles [les violettes fanees], en effet, malgre leur fralcheur 
enlevee, k cause de cela peut-fetre, die m’envoyait un parfum plus 
kcre et plus irritants le malheur, qui avait dCl passer dessus, la 
rendait belle de Famertume que sa bouche conservait, mfeme en 
dormant, belle des deux rides qu’elle avait derrifere le cou et que le 
jour, sans doute, elle cachait sous ses cheveux. A voir cette femme 
si triste dans la volupt^ et dont les 6treintes mfemes avaient une joie 
lugubre, je devinais mille passions terribles qui Favaient dii sillonner 
comme la foudre k en juger par les traces rest^es, et puis sa vie 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 21 1 

devrait me faire plaisir k entendre ^raconter, moi qui recherchais 
dans Texistence humaine le cote sonore et vibrant, le monde des 
grandes passions et des belles larmes. 

The courtesan speaks as follows: 

‘Dandys et rustauds, j’ai voulu vo^ si tons etaient de m^mej j’ai 
goutd la passion des hommes, aux mains blanches et grasses, aux 
cheveux teints et coll& sur les tempes; j’ai eu de piles adolescents, 
blonds, efF6min& comme des filles, qui se mouraient sur moi; les 
vieillards aussi m’ont salie de leurs joies decrepites, et j’ai contemple 
au r^veil leur poitrine oppress^e et leurs yeux ^teints. Sur un banc 
de bois, dans un cabaret de village, entre un pot de vin et une pipe 
de tabac, I’homme du peuple aussi m’a embrassee avec violence; je 
me suis fait comme lui une joie epaisse et des allures faciles; mais 
la canaille ne fait pas mieux I’amour que la noblesse, et la botte de 
paille n’est pas plus chaude que les sofas. Pour les rendre plus 
ardents, je me suis d^vou^e k quelques-uns comme une esclave, et 
ils ne m’en aimaient pas davantage; j’ai eu, pour des sots, des bas- 
sesses infimes, et en Change ils me haissaient et me m6prisaient, 
alors que j’aurais voulu leur centupler mes caresses et les inonder 
de bonheur. Esperant enfin que les gens difformes pouvaient mieux 
aimer que les autres, et que les natures rachitiques se raccrochaient 
k la vie par la volupte, je me suis donn^e a des bossus, k des negres, k 
des nains; je leur fis des nuits k rendre jaloux des millionnaires, 
mais je les epouvantais peut-€tre, car ils me quittaient vite. Ni les 
pauvres, ni les riches, ni les beaux, ni les laids n’ont pu assouvir 
I’amour que je leur demandais k remplir; tous, faibles, languissants, 
con^us dans I’ennui, avortons faits par des paralytiques que le vin 
enivre, que la femme tue, craignant de mourir dans les draps comme 
on meurt k la guerre, il n’en est pas un que je n’aie vu lasse dfes la 
premiere heure, II n’y en a done plus, sur la terre, de ces jeunesses 
divines comme autrefois! plus de Bacchus, plus d’ Apollons, plus de 
ces h^ros qui marchaient nus couronnfe de pampres et de lauriers! 
J’^tais faite pour 6tre la maitresse d’un empereur, moi; il me fallait 
I’amour d’un bandit, sur un rocher dur, par un soleil d’Afrique; 
j’ai souhait6 les enlacements des serpents, et les baisers rugissants 
que se donnent les lions. A cette epoque je lisais beaucoup; il y 
a surtout deux livres que j’ai relus cent fois: Paul et Virginie et un 
autre qui s’appelait les Crimes des Retries. On y voyait les portraits 
de Messaline, de Theodora, de Marguerite de Bourgogne, de Marie 
Stuart et de Catherine IL *‘£tre reine, me disais-je, et rendre la 
foule amoureuse de toi!” Eh bien, j’ai et^ reine, reine comme 
on peut I’fetre maintenant . . , je dominais tout par I’insolence de ma 
beauts. . • .’ 



212 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Flaubert concludes: 

‘Agrandie tout k coup k jj^es proportions que je lui pr^tais, 
sans doute, elle me parut une pemme nouvelle, pleine de mysteres 
ignorfe. • . toute tentante d’un charme irritant et d’attraits nouveaux, 
Les hommes, en efiFet, qui Paifaient poss6d& avaient laissd sur elle 
comme une odeur de parfum ^teint, traces de passions disparues, 
qui lui faisaient une majeste voluptueuse; la ddbauche la decorait 
d^une beaut6 infernale. Sans les orgies passdes, aurait-elle eu ce 
sourire de suicide, qui la feisait ressembler k une morte se rdveillant 
dans i’amour 

Flaubert follows Gautier in that he worships in Cleo- 
patra the perfect incarnation of antique desire :33 

T1 adorait la courtisane antique, telle qu’elle est venue au monde 
un jour de soleil, la fenune belle et terrible, qui bitit des pyramides 
avec les pr&ents de ses amants, devant qui se deploient les tapis de 
Carthage et les tuniques de Syrie, celle k qui Ton envoie I’ambre 
des Sarmates, Tedredon du Caucase, la poudre d’or du Sennahar, le 
corail de la mer Rouge, les diamants de Golconde, les gladiateurs de 
Thrace, Tivoire des Indes, les poetes d’Athfenesj il y a i sa porte, 
attendant qu’elle s’dveille, le satrape du roi de Perse, Pambassadeur 
des Scythes, les fils de senateurs, les archontes, consuls, et des peuples 
venus pour la voin C’est la creature pile, k Pceil de feu, la vipfere 
du Nil qui enlace et qui etouffej elle bouleverse les empires, mene 
les. armies k la guerre et s’ivanouit sous un baiserj elle connalt les 
philtres qui font aimer et les boissons qui font mourir, les mires en 
ipouvantent leurs fils et les rois languissent pour elle d’amoun* 

This figure takes definite form in the Tentation with the 
Queen of Sheba and, particularly, with the pathetic char- 
acter Ennoia. The Queen of Sheba says to Saint Antony: 

‘Toutes celles que tu as rencontrees, depuis la fille des carrefours 
chantant sous sa lanterne jusqu’i la patricienne effeuillant des roses 
du haut de sa litiire, toutes les formes entrevues, toutes les imagina- 
tions de ton disir, demande-les! Je ne suis pas une femme, je suis 
un monde. Mes vitements n^ont qu’i tomber, et tu dicouvriras 
sur ma personne une succession de mysteres 

This is the description of Ennoia: 

‘Elle a ite I’Hiline des Troyens, dont le poete Stisichore a 
maudit la memoire. Elle a ete Lucrece, la patricienne violee par 
les rois, EUe a ite Dalila, qui coupait les cheveux de Samson. Elle 
a iti cette fille d’lsrael qui s’abandonnait aux boucs. Elle a aimi 
I’adultere, Pidoiatrie, le mensonge et la sottise. Elle s’est prostituee 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 213 

^ tous les peuples. Elle a chante ^ans tous les carrefours. Elle a 
bais6 tous les visages. A Tyr, la oyrienne, elle 6tait la maltresse 
des voleurs. Elle buvait avec eux pendant les nuits, et elle cachait 
les assassins dans la vermine de K)n dt tiede. . . . Innocente comme 
le Christ, qui est mort pour les hcfimes, elle s’est devoute pour 
les femmes. . . . Elle est Minerve! elle est le Saint-Espritl’ 

It was not in France, however, but in England, that this 
type of Fatal Woman found its most complete form, 
thanks to the particular sensibility of one who was a par- 
tial disciple or Gautier (but in many ways superior to his 
master) — ^Algernon Charles Swinburne. And since Swin- 
burne demonstrated in his own person a most character- 
istic incarnation of the particular sexual attitude which 
formed, as it were, the ‘fond de cale’ of Romantic litera- 
ture, and since the various continentaTliteratures took back 
again from him and from his English successors (Pater, 
Wilde) the themes which had previously been elaborated 
by the French Romantics, it seems opportune here to give 
some description of the poet’s personality. 

12. The case of Swinburne presents certain analogies 
with that of Baudelaire, except that in the Englishman it 
IS easier to distinguish between sincerity and affectation, 
[f in the viciousness of Baudelaire there was a good deal 
shat was deliberately acquired, Swinburne, on the other 
band, was placed by nature_in a special kind of sexual 
Category. Hence his relative Innocence. His gradual 
:rystallization after he came to years of maturity was 
merely a result of his congenital incapacity to feel in the 
same way as the general run of mankind. This crystalliza- 
:ion was no more than an instinctive defence against the 
pain of feeling himself to be different. The sense of the 
artificiality of his own life which never ceased to torment 
Flaubert did not make itself acutely felt to Swinburne, 
^hose artistic personality was never rent with conflicting 
Wdencies. 

‘Swinburne has hitherto been fortunate in his bio- 
graphers. For it would indeed have been regrettable if the 
life-story of one who, although surpassingly strange, was 
yet so exquisite a gentleman, had been marred from the 
outset by any ungentle handling.’ With these words 



21+ THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Harold Nicolson opens hm study of the poet, written in 
'A 926.3s However, he addsimmediately afterwards : ‘There 
will be those, doubtless, vfho will one day explore the in- 
tricacies and causes of his non-existent sexual repressions, 
and will trace depressing^nd essentially erroneous analo- 
gies to Dr. Masoch or the Marquis de Sade.’ That day 
was not far off. In the same year, 1926, was published the 
revised edition of the study by T. Earle Welby,36 which 
aimed at dealing ‘with what was morbid or eccentric in 
him rather more plainly than has hitherto been done’. 
Welby, it is true, hastened to add that, after all and not- 
withstanding all, the poet ‘was a very great man and a very 
great gentleman’. Swinburne’s sexual ‘speciality’, how- 
ever, was made into the central point of Welby’s study, in 
a less explicit but no less conclusive manner than in the 
monumental thesis of Georges Lafourcade, published in 
1928.37 

The customary British reserve, rendered even more cir- 
cumspect by the existence of an authoritative, sacred, 
anodyne biography like that of Gosse, had prevented any 
adequate treatment of the thing which, when all is said and 
done, was the principal source of inspiration to Swinburne 
in his youth — which was, indeed, the greater Swinburne. 
In this way was passed over, more or less in silence, all 
that Swinburne produced at an earlier date than those 
/Works which, in 1^5 and 1^6, made him famous at one 
stroke; and any awkwardness in respect of certain poems 
which were unequivocally perverse was smoothed over by 
the contention that they were founded on literature rather 
than on life, and that they had been WTritten with the object 
of shocking Victorian society. A veil having thus been 
drawn over the most scabrous portion of the poet’s char- 
acter, it was the custom to keep off dangerous ground and 
invent some respectable label for him which would be 
acceptable to all. , Swinburne was displayed as the bard of 
liberty — ^without, however, any real explanation being 
sought for the transition from Poems and Ballads to Songs 
before Sunrise. Welby, and to an even greater extent Lafour- 
cade, have on the other hand taken into proper account 
the period of preparation and also certain documents from 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 215 

the poet’s secret archives in the possession of the biblio- 
phile, T. J. Wise. In less respectful and less prudent hands 
the exhumation of these archives might have had an effect 
analogous with that of the opening of the famous porno- 
graphic trunk of the Abb^ Ji^les, in Octave Mirbeau’s 
notorious novel. As an example of delectatio morosa, it 
suffices to say that among these documents there is to be 
found an unprintable epic poem on the subject of flagella- 
tion, The Flog^ng-Block, which the poet composed, not to 
indulge the whim of a moment, but obviously with studied 
care, at intervals between 1861 and 1881; and that in 
mature years he resorted to the practice of ‘ordering’ draw- 
ings of scenes of flagellation he previously described in 
detail.38 As to the question of Swinburne’s experiments 
in algolagnia, Welby allows us to read between the lines, 
while Lafourcade expressly states: ‘Nous savons que, de 
1867-68 ^ 1 895 du moins, il satisfaisait dans des 6tablisse- 
ments sp6ciaux les tendances que nous venons de si- 
gnaler. In any case all this was quite well known to his 
contemporaries. But I shall discuss in a separate chapter^® 
the sinister legend which, during the French Decadence, 
grew up round the name of the author of Anactoria, 

13. It was Monckton-Milnes who introduced the 
young poet, in i860, to the writings of the Marquis de 
Sade; but this highly amiable and cynical gentleman did 
no more in this case than he was accustomed to do in 
social intercourse: he brought into contact two kindred 
temperaments. There are spiritual intermediaries who 
delight in bringing about the encounter of minds 
which seem destined to fertilize each other, and Milnes 
loved to exercise this function — ^which in many cases 
is both useful and noble — ^with a sting of Mephisto- 
phelian malice. He used to gather round him the most 
incompatible characters in order to watch them clash, or 
else he set to work to bring to light affinities of perversion. 
He used his friends, in fact, as instruments, in order 
to put together some strange, weird comedy, from which 
he, as spectator, would derive the greatest possible enjoy- 
ment, nor did he much care whether the spiritual wel- 
fare of the actors gained anything from it. The youthful 



2i6 the romantic AGONY 

Swinburne, as will be seen, showed the promise of 
abnormal tendencies; Milnes, to satisfy his mind, opened 
to the poet the enfer of his library — and a very rich enfer it 
was, with a European reputation.+i 

But Milnes, whom Swinburne gratified with the 
honourable but sinister title of ‘guide of my youth’ (a 
Virgil guiding him through the Inferno of a library), did 
no more than reveal to Swinburne the existence of com- 
panions in erotic singularity. The singularity was inborn. 

14. At twelve years old Swinburne interpreted as re- 
ligious fervour a certain ecstasy of adoration which came 
over him at the moment of receiving the Eucharist. He 
wrote a play with a Christian theme. The Unhappy Revenge 
(1849), which the characters exalt the voluptuous 
pleasures of martyrdom quite soon his special tendency 
became more precise, and he identified himself with 
Frank, the whipped page of the courtesan Imperia (in 
Laugh and Lie down^ t859),'f3 the precociously depraved 
boy (the ambiguity of disguise adopted by Frank and his 
twin brother Frederick, who, at Imperia’s beck, appear 
dressed nowin amale, nowin a female garb, is symptomatic), 
who cries to the woman of mature sensual experience: 

... I would so fain be hurt 
But really hurt, hurt deadly, to do good 
To your most sudden fancy. 

Again, he identifies himself with Tebaldeo Tebaldei, the 
chronicler of Lucrezia Borgia, who theorizes on the sub- 
ject of algolagnia {The Chronicle of Tebaldeo Tebaldei^ 

1 86 !),-« associating pleasure and pain in the same way as 
Baudelaire (though Baudelaire was at this time unknown 
^o the English poet): 

^ ‘Knowest thou not . . . that a nerve may quiver and be convulsed 
with actual pain while the blood is dancing and singing for joy like 
a nymph drunken ? that to be pinched and tom by the lips and teeth 
and fingers of love is a delight enduring when one is past kisses and 
when caresses have no sting or savour left in them ? that the ache 
Md smart of the fleshly senses are things common alike to pleasure 
\and to pain?’ 

Again, Swinburne is Arthur, the young chorister who ' 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 217 

bears on his body ‘the stripes pf last red week’ and sings 
in Latin the praises of the beautiful but impure Rosa- 
mond he is Chastelardj who burns to be a martyr for 
love of Mary Stuart. Lafourcade has studied all these 
works so minutely from the sar^e point of view as that of 
this present study, that it only remains for me to refer the 
reader to the French critic’s volume. Nor shall I stay to 
discuss the considerable influence which Gautier’s de- 
scriptive passages may have had on certain of Swinburne’s 
(for instance, the passage where he describes Lucrezia 
Borgia naked,'** which looks very like an amplification of 
certain passages in Mademoiselle de Maupin and in the 
Nouvelles). I shall rather attempt to point out the pecu- 
liarities in the position of men in relation to women in 
Swinburne’s work, and the characteristics of his female 
type. 

As regards the former, it suffices to record the concise 
formula used by Swinburne himself: man, in his work, 
aspires to be ‘the powerless victim of the furious rage of a 
-beautiful woman’ his attitude is passive, his love a 
martyrdom, his pleasure pain. As for the woman, whether 
she be Fredegond or Lucrezia Borgia, Rosamond or Mary 
Stuart, she is always the same t^pe of unrestrained, im- 
-perious, cruel beauty. One might trace in detail the 
gradual development of this type in Swinburne, but the 
documentation would be so copious and withal so very 
obvious in its interpretation that it will be better to limit 
ourselves here to the main points, referring to Lafourcade’s 
book for greater detail. Besides, given the very limited 
experience that Swinburne had of the opposite sex, it is 
natural that the women described by him should all con- 
form to one t^e which is a mere^rojection of his own 
turbid sensuality i)they have a good deal of the idol about 
them — in fact of the ciSojAov, the phantom of the mind 
“i-ather than of the real human being. The greatest efibrt 
made by the poet in the study of the feminine soul is the 
character of Mary Stuart, and it must be admitted that he 
managed it with notable success. 

Swinburne’s conception of woman was undoubtedly in- 
fluenced not a little by the example of the Pre-Raphaelites, 



3i8 the romantic AGONY 

by Morris in his early ^ork {Early Poems) and by 
Rossetti. In Rossetti there is to be found a conspicuous 
preference for the sad and -the cruel; the Middle Ages, to 
himj are a legend of blood; beside his Beata Beatrix stand 
magical, evil creatures. His Sister Helen (in the ballad of 
the same name) is a cruel, fatal woman, destroying the 
man whose destiny lies in her power. (Sidonia von Bork, 
dso, the heroine of the archaistic ‘tale of terror’ by the 
German clergyman Wilhelm Meinhold (1847), whom 
Rossetti admired and caused the Pre-Raphaelites to ad- 
mire, is a cruel, fatal woman, who for vengeance casts a 
spell upon the family of the Dukes of Pomerania, making 
them sterile by means of her witchcraft.) And the medi- 
eval conception of the ‘martyrdom of love’, illustrated as 
it is in sonnets like those in Willowwood, comes very near 
to algolagnia. The type of beauty idolized by Rossetti is 
ihe dolorous, exquisitely Romantic beauty ; a spectral halo 
seems to radiate from his figures, as it radiates also round 
certain episodes in his life, in particular that of his 
marriage, which might have been taken bodily from the 
tales of Poe. The influence of the crime-stained Renais- 
sance of the Elizabethan dramatists, of the gory Middle 
Ages of the Pre-Raphaelites, and, shortly afterwards, 
of Gautier’s orgiastic Antiquity and Baudelaire’s grim 
Modernity; finally the Ate of Greek Tragedy, the implac- 
able doctrine of the Old Testament, and the cruel nihilistic 
hedonism of Sade — all these were sources which flowed 
easily into one single stream and found a natural bed in a 
mind such as Swinburne’s, which was predisposed to re- 
■-ceive them. 

In his attraction towards a type of tainted beauty, Swin- 
burne was not only very closely related to the French 
Romantics, but also to the Pre-Raphaelites. The lovely 
Rosamond, for instance, the ‘Rosa mundi, non Rosa 
mxmda’, concubine of Henry II of England, inspired both 
Rossetti and Burne-Jones to paint pictures, and Swin- 
burne, in his youth, to write a play (1858—60). In this 
play the sinful heroine says: 

JVea, I am found the woman in all tales. 

The fece caught always in the story’s fece: 



219 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 
I Helen, holding Paris by the lips, 

Smote Hector through the Head; I Cressida 
So kissed men’s mouths that they went sick or mad. 

Stung right at brain with me; I Guenevere 
Made my queen’s eyes so previous and my hair 
Delicate with such gold in its soft ways 
And my mouth honied so for Launcelof. . . 

This feminine figure tallies in almost every point with 
those of Gautier and Flaubert. And these are the feelings 
which she inspires in men; 

God help! [says Henry] your hair burns me to see like gold 

Burnt to pure heat; your colour seen turns in me 

To pain and plague upon the temple vein 

That aches as if the sun’s heat snapt the blood 

In hot mid-measure; I could cry on you 

Like a maid weeping wise, you are so feir 

It hurts me in the head, makes the life sick 

Here in my hands . . . 

(Your beauty makes me blind and hot, I am 
\Stabbed in tihe brows with it 

Here one can see, carried to the point of paroxysm, the 
sentiment of mixed adoration and terror which Gautiep 
had already given to the lovers of Cleopatra, of Nyssia, 
and of the courtesan Clarimonde. In Queen Mother (li 59— 
60) the love of the feeble but violent monster Charles IX 
and Denise has hints of cruelty which anticipate Anac~ 
toria\^^ and the Nero-like complacency with which the 
poet describes the massacre of St. Bartholomew recalls a 
similar characteristic in Flaubert. But it is in Chastelard 
(1860-3) typ® of sensual passion celebrated by 

Swinburne finds its most intense and, at the same time, 
most artistically valuable, expression. 

15. The character of Mary Stuart as it appears at the 
end of the trilogy dedicated to her by Swinburne (the 
dates of publication were: Chastelard^ 1865, Bothwell,! 

.^874, Mary Stuart y 1881) had lost a good deal of the 
rigidly fatal quality it has in the first play; there are sur- 
prises and contradictions in it, and the heroine, although 
she remains ‘fatal’ to all the men who love her, yet appears 
inconsistent and full of life, a poetical creation, in fact, 
studied with the interest of a psychologist, and no longer 



220 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

seen merely through the^ l3n'ical despair of Chastelard, 
lovesick and athirst for mart^dom. Unfortunately, in the 
two last parts of the trilogy the gems are scattered over an 
arid waste of metrical exercises in which the poet strives 
to combine the techniqites of various Elizabethan dra- 
matists and often succeeds only in achieving the involved 
diftuseness of a Chapman, without possessing the pro- 
found metaphysical sense of the universe which, in the 
latter, is an excuse for many defects. Few people can 
boast of having read the whole of this trilogy; but Chaste- 
lard had its moment of popularity among connoisseurs. 

The Mary Stxiart of Chastelard is the Fatal Woman par 
jexceHence, a type drawn from the poet’s own intimate 
sensual nature and without reference to historical truth. 
For one must contrast the historical words of the dying 
Chastelard — ‘Adieu la plus belle et la plus cruelle prin- 
cesse du monde’ — ^with Brantdme’s comment — ‘Jamais 
cette reyne ne fut cruelle, elle estoit de tout bonne et trfes 
douce’; and then it can be seen that the ‘cruelty’ attributed 
by the real Chastelard to his beloved should not be taken 
literally, any more than the usual phraseology of the school 
of Petrarch. But in the play Mary Stuart is what Chastel- 
ard — ^that is, Swinburne portraying himself in the character 
of Chastelard — ^wishes her to be; she is precisely the 
monster to whom can be symbolically applied the passage 
from Mandeville which Swinburne adopted as a motto: 

‘Another Yle is there toward the Northe, in the See Occean, 
where that ben fulle crude and ful evele Wommen of Nature: and 
thei h^ precious Stones in hire Eyen; and thei ben of that kynde, 
that yif thei beholden ony man [with wratthe, omtted by Suoin- 
httme\y thei slen him anon with the beholdynge, as dothe the 
Basilisk.’ 

Mary Stuart is cold, she cannot weep (Act i, sc. i) — 
rather she enjoys the spectacle of suffering, she is a vam- 
pire. Chastelard strives to obtain her surrender at the 
price of his own life, as though she were Semiramis, Cleo- 
patra, or Marguerite of Burgundy (ii. i): 

He would have given his body to be slain. 

Having embraced my body. Now, God knows, 

I have no man to do as much for me 



221 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 

As give me but a little of his blood 
To fill my beauty from, thiough I go down 
Pale to my grave for want — I think not. Pale — 
am too pale surely — 

Behind such words as these on^ catches a glimpse of the 
figures of Gautier's Fatal Women, of Cleopatra, of Clari- 
monde, the vampire-woman. Note also the pallor. The 
typical Fatal Woman is always pale, just as the Byronic 
hero was pale. One imagines the very sight of Mary 
Stuart to be formidable, as was Gautier's Nyssia. One of 
her future victims, Darnley, says to the Scottish Queen, 
when she speaks of pity (iv. i) : 

I say that looking with this fece of yours 
None shall believe you holy; what, you talk. 

Take mercy in your mouth, eat holiness, 

Put God under your tongue and feed on heaven. 

With fear and faith and — ^faith, I know not what — 

And look as though you stood and saw men slain 
To make you game and laughter: nay, your eyes 
Threaten us unto blood. What will you do 
To make men take your sweet word? pitiful — 

You are pitiful as he that’s hired for death 
And loves the slaying better than the hire. 

Chastelard aspires to be the victim of this cruel sphinx: 
'he seeks pain as a pleasure, and in one passage, which 
Lafourcade quite rightly says is ‘perhaps the most intro- 
spective that Swinburne ever wrote', he says to his be- 
loved (ni. i): 

. . . No, by God’s body. 

You will not see? how shall I make you see? 

Look, it may be love was a sort of curse 

Made for my plague and mixed up with my days 

Somewise in their beginning; or indeed 

A bitter birth begotten of sad stars 

At mine own body’s birth, that heaven might make 

My life taste sharp where other men drank sweet; 

But whether in heavy body or broken soul, 

I know it must go on to be my death. 

For a moment Chastelard dreams of dying with his be- 
loved; of killing her and killing himself; but then he finds 
a more refined method of satisfying his algolagnia. It is 



222 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

essential that the cause of his death should be his beloved’s 
own wish, that he should be sent to the scaffold because of 
her and by her order. So he makes his way into the Queen’s 
room and remains there till he is discovered, enjoying the 
foretaste of seeing ‘his b]pod shed out about her feet’; his 
‘heart feels drunken when he thinks , • . that her sweet lips 
and life will smell of his spilt blood’. Chastelard’s act is, 
as it were, a grim rite performed at the feet of a blood- 
thirsty idol (v. ii): 

For all Christ’s work this Venus is not quelled, 

But reddens at the mouth with blood of men, 

Sucking between small teeth the sap o’ the veins. 

Dabbling with death her little tender lips — 
bitter beauty, poisonous-pearled mouth. . . . 

. . . Ah, fair love, 

^Fair fearful Venus made of deadly foam, 

I shall escape you somehow with my death. 

Chastelard tears up the reprieve, and reaches the sum- 
mit of his rapture when the Queen comes to visit him in 
prison (v. ii): 

"I know not: men must love you in life’s spite; 

For you will always kill them; man by man 

Your lips will bite them dead; yea, though you would. 

You shall not spare one; all will die of you . . . 

J Stretch your throat out that I may kiss all round 
Where mine shall be cut through: suppose my mouth 
The axe-edge to bite so sweet a throat in twain 
With bitter iron, should not it turn soft: 

As lip is soft to lip? 

Lafourcade remarks 

‘Dans cette derniere entrevue la cruaut^ sensuelle de I’inspiration 
atteint les extremes limites jusqu’auxquelles Part peut s’aventurer 
sans les depasser toutefois — Swinburne 6tait k I’^poque oh il &rivait 
ces vers plonge dans la lecture des oeuvres du Marquis de Sade; 
mais il est absolument inutile de voir ici une influence directe de 
ce dernier. Cette influence exista, mais fut surtout intellectuelle, 
Swinburne ne puise I’inspiration qui anime les magnifiques tirades 
de Chastelard que dans ses propres tendances et dans ses propres 
d&irs. Aucune oeuvre de Swinburne n’est plus profond^ment sen- 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 233 

suelle et physique que celle-ci; les id&s gdndrales n’y out pas de 
place; mais Chastelard est une aspiration vers un ideal ddguisd.’ 

16. Whereas Chastelard^ in some respects, is the poem 
>of sadism in the act, Swinburne’s other great play, Atalanta 
itt Calydon (18 63— 4.1 published j 8 ^), may be called the 
■^em of sadistic philosophy, to such an extent did the 
theories of the Divine Marquis colour Swinburne’s con- 
ception of the Greek world. The theories of Sade appear 
in this play mixed not only with the traditional Greek and 
Hebrew doctrines but also with the ideas of William 
Blake, upon a study of whom Swinburne was engaged at 
the same time (1862—6). In this study, after stressing the 
importance of Blake’s tendency towards the ‘holy insur- 
rection’ (the rebellion of man against God, thanks to 
which man wrill become god on earth),®® and after tracing 
this tendency in various forms of religion, Swinburne gives 
in a note a ‘paraphrase or “excursus” on a lay sermon by a 
modern pagan philosopher of more material tendencies; 
but given to such tragic indulgence in huge Titanic 
dithyrambs’.®! As Lafourcade points out,®* this is nothing 
else but a paraphrase of various passages from ‘Justine and 
Juliette, in which Sade puts forward his doctrine which 
(regards crime and destruction as imiversal laws of nature. 

^‘Nature averse to crime? I tell you, nature lives and breathes 
by it; hungers at all her pores for bloodshed, aches in all her nerves 
for the help of sin, yearns with all her heart for the furtherance of 
cruelty. Nature forbid that thing or this? Nay, the best or worst 
of you will never go so &r as she would have you; no criminal will 
come up to the measure of her crimes, no destruction seem to her 
destructive enough. We, when we would do evil, can disorganise 
a little matter, shed a little blood, quench a little breath at the 
door of a perishable body; this we can do, and can call it crime. 
Unnatural is it? Good friend, it is by criminal things and deeds 
unnatural that nature works and moves and has her being; what 
subsides through inert virtue, she quickens through active crime; 
out of death she kindles life; she uses the dust of man to strike her 
li^t upon; she feeds with fresh blood the innumerable insatiable 
mouths suckled at her milkless breast; she takes the pain of the' 
whole world to sharpen the sense of vital pleasure in her limitless 
veins: she stabs and poisons, crushes and corrodes, yet cannot live 
and sin ^t enough for the cruelty of her great desire. Behold, the 



224 the romantic agony 

ages of men are dead at her feet; the blood of the world is on her 
hands; and her desire is continually toward evil, that she may see 
the end of things which she hath made. Friends, if we would be 
one with nature, let us continually do evil with all our might But 
what evil is here for us to do, where the whole body of things is 
evil ? The day’s spider kills Ae day’s fly, and calls it a crime ? Nay, 
could we thwart nature, then might crime become possible and sin 
an actual thing. Could but a man do this; could he cross the courses 
of the stars, and put back the times of the sea; could he change 
the ways of the world and find out the house of life to destroy it; 
could he go into heaven to defile it and into hell to deliver it from 
subjection; could he draw down the sun to consume the earth, and 
bid the moon shed poison or fire upon the air; could he kill the 
fruit in the seed and corrode the child’s mouth with the mother’s 
milk; then had he sinned and done evil against nature. Nay, and 
not then: for nature would fain have it so, that she might create 
a world of new things; for she is weary of the ancient life: her 
eyes are sick of seeing and her ears are heavy with hearing; with 
the lust of creation she is burnt up, and rent in twain with travail 
until she bring forth change; she would fain create afresh, and 
cannot, except it be by destroying: in all her energies she is athirst 
for mortal food, and with all her forces she labours in desire of 
death. And what are the worst sins we can do — ^we who live for 
a day and die in a night? a few murders. . • 

Swinburne ends this paraphrase by remarking ‘how the 
mystical evangelist and the material humorist53 meet in the 
reading of mere nature and join hands in their interpreta- 
tion of the laws ruling the outer body of life: a vision of 
ghastly ^lory, without pity or help possible'. This last 
formula is a metaphysical reflection of the other: ‘the 
powerless victim of the furious rage of a beautiful woman'. 
Swinburne's macrocosm is the exact counterpart of his 
microcosm. 

In Chrous IV of Atalanta^ and particularly in one 
passage of Anactoria (‘Is not his incense bitterness, his 
meat — ^murder.?') which belongs to the same period, the 
doctrine of Sade which Swinburne paraphrased in prose 
influenced the actual inspiration of the lines. Lord 
Houghton (i.e. Monckton-Miliies) had seen in this chorus 
the influence of Byron, but Swinburne objected: 

T only regret that in justly attacking my Charenton you have 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 225 

wilfully misrepresented its source. I should have bowed to the 
judicial sentence if instead of “Byron with a difference” you had 
/said “De Sade with a difference”. The poet, thinker and man of 
the world from whom the theology of my poem is derived was 
a greater than Byron. jFfi?, indeed, fatalist or not, saw to the bottom 
of Gods and men.’®'* 

Milnes’s ‘misrepresentation’ indirectly confirms the 
opinion of Sainte-Beuve as to the ‘two greatest inspirers of 
the moderns’ and the illustrations I have given in support 
of it. 

Swinburne took from Sade the idea that Grod smites 
equally the just and the unjust, and perhaps the former 
rather more than the latter; also the other idea that pain 
and death are everywhere in Nature, that crime is Nature’s 
law; and the conception of God as a Being of supreme 
wickedness (‘the supreme evil, God’), and the revolt of 
man against the divinity he disowns. 

All we are against thee, against thee, O God most high. 

{Atalanta) 

Him would I reach, him smite, him desecrate, 

Pierce the cold lips of God with human breath. 

And mix his immortality with death. siAnactorid) 

In Atalanta the sadistic streak is at first sight less ob- 
vious; yet is not Meleager’s death due to the fault of 
Atalanta, whom he loves.? Have we not, in a more 
allusive and mythical form, the same sexual situation as 
in Chastelard} The woman is a frigid virgin, it is true, 
but she is also 

. . . the strange woman, she the flower, the sword. 

Red from spilt blood, a mortal flower to men,v 
Adorable, detestable. 

She answers therefore to the usual type of Fatal Woman; 
and there is a certain analogy between the situations of 
Atalanta and of SalammM. The man dies under the eyes 
of a frigid woman, devoted to the cult of the Moon, her- 
self an idol, and his death is her involuntary act. Mttho, 
lacerated by torture, speaks not a word but gazes at the 

Q 



226 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

woman with terrible eyes; Meleager, spent like the fatal 

torch, he, too, ‘a woman’s offering’, implores the virgin: 

. . . touch me with thy rose-like hands, 

And fasten up my eyelids with thy mouth, 

A bitter kiss. . . . 

. . . hide my body with thy veil. 

And with thy raiment cover foot and head. 

And stretch thyself upon me and touch hands 
With hands and lips with lips. 

The voluptuousness of pain is the ending alike of Atalanta 
and of Ckastelard. There are also mixed with it suggestions 
of necrophily — one of the classic variations of sadism — 
such as the poet had already indicated quite plainly in 
The Leper^^ and Les Noyades, The man who is condemned 
by the Terror to be drowned together with the young 
woman he loves rejoices in his ‘happy martyrdom’, to use 
the words of Tasso’s Olindo: 

I shall drown with her, laughing for love; and she 
Mix with me, touching me, lips and eyes. 

And the leper-woman’s lover is happy that she is dead, so 
that he may pour out upon her the tenderness of his mor- 
bid passion.56 

17. This algolagnic desire, vdth all its subtle ramifica- 
tions, foimd its boldest expression in Leshia Brandon.^ the 
novel Swinburne wrote between 1864 and 1867, in which 
it is accompanied by incest and hermaphroditism (after the 
manner of Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin and Balzac’s 
La Fille aux yeux d^or). If Swinburne put something of 
himself into the character of Lesbia, the modern Sappho 
(and the poet’s sympathy with this type of anomaly is 
owing, as Lafourcade remarks,^? to a common feeling of 
isolation caused by sexual emotions radically different 
firom the rest of mankind), he put even more of himself 
into certain outbursts on the part of Bertie and of Den- 
ham — outbursts in which the algolagnic element already 
illustrated recurs insistently. This is Bertie with his 
sister: 

‘Her perfume thrilled and stung him; he bent down and kissed 
Jber feet . . . which he took and pressed down upon his neck. “Oh ! 
I should like you to tread me to death, darling. ... I wish you 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 227 

would kill me some day; it would be so jolly to feel you killing 
me. Not like it? Shouldn’t I! You just hurt me and see.” She 
pinched him so sharply that he laughed and panted with pleasure, 

should like being swished even I think, if you were to complain 
of me or if I knew you liked it.” ’ 

In Denham the impulses of active and passive sadism 
are intertwined. He might well say, like Baudelaire's 
Heautontimoroumenos ; 

Je suis la plaie et le couteau! 

Je suis le soufflet et la joue! 

Je suis les membres et la roue, 

Et la victime et le bourreau! 

‘Denham looked her in the face, shaken inwardly and through- 
out by a sense of inevitable pain. . . . Rage rose in him again like 
a returning sea. ... He would have given his life for leave to touch 
her; his soul for a chance of djdng crushed down under her feet; 
an emotion of extreme tenderness, lashed to fierce insanity by the 
circumstance passed into a passion of vehement cruelty. Deeply 
he desired to die by her if that could be; and more deeply, if this 
could be, to destroy her; scourge her into swooning and absorb her 
blood with kisses; caress and lacerate her loveliness, alleviate and 
heighten her pains; to feel her foot upon his throat, and wound 
her own with his teeth; submit his body and soul for a little to her 
lightest will and satiate upon her the desperate caprice of his im- 
measurable desire; to inflict careful torture on the limbs too tender 
to embrace; suck the tears off her laden eyelids, bite through her 
sweet and shuddering lips.’ 

This passage is only a prose version of the inflamed 
accents of Anactoria^ in which can be seen, on the one hand, 
'the cannibalistic elements of sadism, and, on the other, 
sadism permeating the whole universe (‘the mute melan- 
choly lust of heaven': heaven merely reflects the ‘mute 
melancholy lust' of the poet himself) 

I would my love could kill thee; I am satiated 
With seeing thee live, and fain would have thee dead. 

wl would find grievous ways to have thee slain. 

Intense device, and superflux of pain; 

Vex thee with amorous agonies, and shake 
Life at thy lips, and leave it there to ache; 

Strain out thy soul with pangs too soft to kill, 

Intolerable interludes, and infinite ill; 



228 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Relapse and reluctation of the breath. 

Dumb tunes and shuddering semitones of death. 

SThat I could drink thy veins as wine, and eat 
Thy breasts like honey! that from face to feet 
Thy body were abolish^ld and consumed. 

And in my flesh thy very flesh entombed! 

. . , O that I 

Durst crush thee out of life with love, and die, 

Die of thy pain and my delight, and be 
Mixed with thy blood and molten into thee! 

Would I not plague thee d)ring overmuch ? 

Would I not hurt thee perfectly ? not touch 
Thy pores of sense with torture, and make bright 
Thine eyes with bloodlike tears and grievous light ? 

Strike pang from pang as note is struck from note, 

Catch the sob’s middle music in thy throat. 

Take thy limbs living, and new-mould with these 
A lyre of many faultless agonies? 

Many expressions from Anactoria were to pass into the 
work of D’Annunzio, to whom belongs the following 
remark: 

‘A. Swinburne, author of Laus Veneris and of Anactoria^ in 
whom there seems to live again, with incredible violence, the 
criminal sensuali ty which fills primitive dramas with wild cries and 
deaerate sTaulllSrs,’^^ 

1 8. But the time has come to turn our attention again 
to the type of Fatal Woman which became firmly estab- 
lished in Swinburne’s work. There remains to be dis- 
cussed, from this point of view, the First Series of Poems 
and Ballads^ which is completely dominated by the figure 
^of the bloodthirsty, implacable idol. There is the Venus of 
TannhS.user, in Ltaus V eneriSy in which the subject of 
Keats’s Belle Dame sans merci is treated more profoundly 
and elaborated with all the resources of a grim and satanic 
j Pre-Raphaelite medievalism; Venus who was ‘the world’s 
Relight’, now fallen, in Christian times, to the level of a 
iHmister vampire, ‘de Fantique V^nus le superbe fantdme’, 
she whom the poet evoked again later in the ode on the 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 229 

death of Baudelaire {Ave atque Vaky in the Second Series 
of Poems and Ballads ') : 

And one weeps with him in the ways Lethean, 

And stains with tears her changing bosom chill: 

^hat obscure Venus of the hollow hill, 

That thing transformed which was the Cytherean, 

With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine 
Long since, and face no more called Erycine; 

A ghost, a bitter and luxurious god. 

Thee also with fair flesh and singing spell 
Did she, a sad and second prey, compel 
Into the footless places once more trod. 

And shadows hot from hell. . . . 

In Laus Veneris the beautiful, cruel idol dominates a 
whole vast panorama of slaughter: 

Ah, not as they, but as the souls that were 
Slain in the old time, having found her fair j 
Who, sleeping with her lips upon their eyes. 

Heard sudden serpents hiss across her hair.^^ 

Their blood runs round the roots of time like rainj 
She casts them forth and gathers them again; 

With nerve and bone she weaves and multiplies 
Exceeding pleasure out of extreme pain. 

Her little chambers drip with flower-like red. 

Her girdles, and the chaplets of her head. 

Her armlets and her anklets; with her feet 
She tramples all that winepress of the dead. 

Her gateways smoke with fume of flowers and fires. 

With loves burnt out and unassuaged desires; 

Between her lips the steam of them is sweet. 

The languor in her ears of many lyres. 

Her beds are full of perfume and sad sound. 

Her doors are made with music, and barred round 
With sighing and with laughter and with tears, 

With tears whereby strong souls of men are bound. 

There is the knight Adonis that was slain; 

With flesh and blood she chains him for a chain; 

The body and the spirit in her ears 
Cry, for her lips divide him vein by vein. 

^ ea, all she slayeth. . . . 

There is the Empress Faustine {Faustine)y created by 



230 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Satan as though for a challenge to God, or sent by God 
upon earth to scourge the sins of men with a scourge of 
scorpions, raised from the tomb, a thirst-raging vampire: 
/She loved the games men played with death. 

Where death igust win; 

As though the slain man’s blood and breath 
Revived Faustine. 

Like Venus, Faustine also is eternal, a sort of indestruc- 
tible *love-machine with clockwork joints of supple gold': 
You have the face that suits a woman 
For her soul’s screen — 

The sort of beauty that’s called human 
In hell, Faustine. 

There is the cruel Eternal Feminine incarnate in the 
procession of wanton Oriental queens with strange names, 
in the Masque of Queen Bersahe — Herodias, Aholibah, 
Cleopatra, Abihail, Azubah, Ahinoam, Atarah ; Semiramis : 
I am the queen Semiramis. 

The whole world and the sea that is 
In fashion like a chrysopras, 

The noise of all men labouring. 

The priest’s mouth tired through thanksgiving, 

The sound of love in the blood’s pause. 

The strength of love in the blood’s beat. 

All these were cast beneath my feet 
And all found lesser than I was. 

Hesione, Chrysothemis, Thomyris, Harhas, Myrrha, 
Pasiphae, Sappho; Messalina: 

I am the queen of Italy. 

These were the signs God set on me; 

A barren beauty subtle and sleek. 

Curled carven hair, and cheeks worn wan 
With fierce false lips of many a man, 

Large temples where the blood ran weak, 

A mouth athirst and amorous 

And hungering as the grave’s mouth does 

That, being an-hungred, cannot speak. 

Amestris: 

In Shushan toward Ecbatane 
I wrought my joys with tears and pain 
My loves with blood and bitter sin. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 231 

Ephrath; Pasithea: 

I am the queen of Cypriotes. 

Mine oarsmen, labouring with brown throats 
Sang of me many a tender thing. 

My maidens, girdled loose apd braced 
With gold from bosom to white waist 
Praised me between their wool-combing. 

All that praise Venus all night long 
With lips like speech and lids like song 
Praised me till song lost heart to sing. 

Alaciel; Erigone: 

I am the queen Erigone. 

The wild wine shed as blood on me 
Made my fece brighter than a bride’s. 

My large lips had the old thirst of earth, 

Mine arms the might of the old sea’s girth 
Bound round the whole world’s iron sides. 

Within mine eyes and in mine ears 
Were music and the wine of tears. 

And light, and thunder of the tides. 

Last, but by no means least, there is Dolores, Our Lady 
of Sensual Pain, whom the poet invokes in a litany which 
is a complete example of sadistic profanation : 

Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel 
Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour; 

The heavy white limbs, and the cruel 
Red mouth like a venomous flower; 

When these are gone by with their glories. 

What shall rest of thee then, what remain, 

O mystic and sombre Dolores, 

Our Lady of Pain ? 

Seven sorrows the priests give their Virgin; 

But thy sins, which are seventy times seven. 

Seven ages would fail thee to purge in. 

And then they would haunt thee in heaven. 


O garment not golden but gilded, 

O garden where all men may dwell, 

O tower not of ivory, but builded 
By hands that reach heaven from hell; 



232 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
O mystical rose of the mire, 

O house not of gold but of gain, 

O house of unquenchable fire. 

Our Lady of Pain! 

We shift and bed&k and bedrape us. 

Thou art noble and nude and antique; 

Libitina thy mother, Priapus 
Thy lather, a Tuscan and Greek. 

We play with light loves in the portal. 

And wince and relent and refrain; 

Loves die, and we know thee immortal. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges; 

Thou art fed with perpetual breath. 

And alive after infinite changes, 

^And fresh from the kisses of death; 

Of languors rekindled and rallied. 

Of barren delights and unclean. 

Things monstrous and fruitless, a pallid 
And poisonous queen. 

At the touch of her lips men change 

The lilies and languors of virtue 

For the raptures and roses of vice. 

This couplet, which is so much derided for its apparent 
silliness, is simply a poetical transcription of Sade’s idea of 
contrasting active, triumphant vice with apathetic, down- 
trodden virtue. The shade of the Divine Marquis soon 
dominates the scene, as we shall now see. 

Those [the lilies] lie where thy foot on the floor is, 
These [the roses] crown and caress thee and chain, 

O splendid and sterile Dolores, 

Our Lady of Pain. 

There are sins it may be to discover. 

There are deeds it may be to delight. 

What new work wilt thou find for thy lover. 

What new passions for daytime or night? 

What spells that they know not a word of 
Whose lives are as leaves overblown? 

What tortures undreamt of, unheard of, 

Unwritten, unknown? 



233 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 
Ah beautiful passionate body 
That never has ached with a heart! 

1 On thy mouth though the kisses are bloody. 

Though they sting till it shudder and smart, 

^More kind than the love we adore is. 

They hurt not the heart or the brain, 

' O bitter and tender Dolores, 

Our Lady of Pain. 

Shall no new sin be born for men’s trouble. 

No dream of impossible pangs ? 

Ah, where shall we go then for pastime. 

If the worst that can be has been done ? 

I adjure thee, respond from thine altars. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

At this point, as Lafourcade has remarked,^® there be- 
gins to appear, amid the dithyrambic fury of the lines, a 
hint of the real Black Mass, as described by Sade: 

I have passed from the outermost portal 
To the shrine where a sin is a prayer; 

What care though the service be mortal? 

O our Lady of Torture, what care ? 

All thine the last wine that I pour is. 

The last in the chalice we drain, 

O fierce and luxurious Dolores, 

Our Lady of Pain. 

Through a veil of poetry can be seen allusions to the 
profanation of the sacred vessels, the libation from a 
^halice filled with blood, and even human sacrifice. The 
^profanation embraces all the most sacred ties, for the poet 
Icalls Dolores ‘sister, spouse and mother’* 

For the lords in whose keeping the door is 
That opens on all who draw breath 
Gave the C3^ress to thee, my Dolores, 

The myrtle to death. 

And they laughed, changing hands in the measure. 

And they mixed and made peace after strife; 

Pain melted in tears, and was pleasure; 

Death tingled with blood, and was life. 



234 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
Like lovers they melted and tingled, 

In the dusk of thine innermost fane; 

In the darkness they murmured and mingled. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

In a twilight wher^ virtues are vices. 

In thy chapels, unknown of the sun. 

To a tune that enthrals and entices, 

They were wed, and the twain were as one. 

The shade of the high priest of lustful cruelty, the Mar- 
quis de Sade, appears on the scene: 

Thy life shall not cease though thou doff it; 

Thou shalt live until evil be slain. 

And good shall die first, said thy prophet. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

Did he lie? did he laugh ? does he know it. 

Now he lies out of reach, out of breath. 

Thy prophet, thy preacher, thy poet. 

Sin’s child by incestuous death ? 

Did he find out in fire at his waking. 

Or discern as his eyelids lost light, 

When the bands of the body were breaking 
And all came in sight? 

Had not Sade, asks Lafourcade, had not Sade, ‘prophet, 
preacher, poet’, actually shown Good, in the person of 
Justine, struck by the angry lightning of Heaven, while 
Evil, in the person of Juliette, continued to live in pros- 
perity? 

Observe also how the vision of pagan antiquity, colossal 
and bloodstained, makes an accompanying leit-motiv to 
Swinburne’s evocations of lustful pleasure, as it does to 
those of Gautier and Flaubert: 

Dost thou dream, in a respite of slumber. 

In a lull of the fires of thy life, 

Of the days without name, without number, 

When thy will stung the world into strife; 

When, a goddess, the pulse of thy passion 
Smote kings as they revelled in Rome; 

And they hailed thee re-risen, O Thalassian, 
Foam-white, from the foam? 



23S 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 

When thy Ups had such lovers to flatter; 

When the city lay red from thy rods. 

And thine hands were as arrows to scatter 
The children of change and their gods; 

When the blood of thy foemen made fervent 
A sand never moist from tSe main, 

As one smote them, their lord and thy servant. 
Our Lady of Pain. 

[Sands] red from the print of thy paces, 

Made smooth for the world and its lords, 
Ringed round with a flame of fair faces, 

And splendid with swords. 

There the gladiator, pale for thy pleasure. 
Drew bitter and perilous breath; 

There torments laid hold on the treasure 
Of limbs too delicious for death; 

When thy gardens were lit with live torches; 
When the world was a steed for thy rein; 
When the nations lay prone in thy porches, 
Our Lady of Pain. 

When, with flame all around him aspirant. 
Stood flushed, as a harp-player stands. 

The implacable beautiful tyrant, 

Rose-crowned, having death in his hands; 

And a sound as the sound of loud water 
Smote far through the flight of the fires. 

And mixed with the lightning of slaughter 
A thunder of lyres. 

Dost thou dream of what was and no more is, 
The old kingdoms of earth and the kings? 

Dost thou hunger for these things, Dolores, 
For these, in a world of new things ? 

What ailed us, O gods, to desert you 
For creeds that refuse and restrain? 

Come down and redeem us from virtue. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

Thy skin changes country and colour, 

And shrivels or swells to a snake’s. 

Let it brighten and bloat and grow duller. 

We know it, the flames and the flakes. 



236 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Red brands on it smitten and bitten, 

Round skies where a star is a stain, 

And the leaves with thy litanies written. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

.*•••• 

But the worm shafl revive thee with kisses; 

Thou shalt change and transmute as a god. 

As the rod to a serpent that hisses. 

As the serpent again to a rod. 

Though the heathen outface and outlive us. 

And our lives and our longings are twain — 

Ah, forgive us our virtues, forgive us. 

Our Lady of Pain. 

They were purple of raiment and golden, 

Filled full of thee, fiery with wine. 

Thy lovers, in haunts unbeholden. 

In marvellous chambers of thine. 

They are fled, and their footprints escape us. 

Who appraise thee, adore, and abstain, 

O daughter of Death and Priapus, 

Our Lady of Pain. 

The poet who wrote this hymn of enthusiastic surrender 
/to vice and to the sadistic law of universal cruelty was, no 
doubt, exaggerating, but there is in it an undeniable 
foundation of sincerity, as though a reaction from the 
aching disappointment expressed in The Triumph of 
Time.^^ 

1 9. The poet had made, in 1862, an effort to break the 
magic circle of his own peculiar sensibility. His love for 
Jane Faulkner in a certain sense marks the critical moment 
of Swinburne’s emotional life. Rejected by her, he wrote 
The Triumph of Time, a pathetic farewell to the normal life 
of which he had caught a glimpse (‘What should such 
fellows as I do.^’ he asks, echoing the words of Hamlet), 
and abandoned himself to the Black Mass of Dolores. ‘What 
could be done with and for Algernon his friends were 
wondering. In 1867 Rossetti endeavoured to entangle 
'Swinburne in a liaison with a lady of athletic accomplish- 
ments, the circus-rider Adah Menken,64 with a view to 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 237 

setting him straight. Swinburne’s eagerness in advertising 
his liaison (he rather unwisely circulated photographs of 
Menken and himself taken together, with the consequence 
that they were publicly exhibited for sale in the windows 
of several shops) was not matched with a proportionate 
success in the actual love-affair, notwithstanding the very 
active part assumed by the lady. (It is said that she re- 
turned to Rossetti, as unearned, the ten pounds he had 
given her to conquer Swinburne’s affections.) Gosse, on 
the authority of Lord Carlisle, speaks of a sort of conseil de 
jamille which was supposed to have invited Mazzini, 
about the same time, to give his help, and to be a spiritual 
father to the poet. Lafourcade does not believe that this 
conseil de Jamille actually took place; be that as it may, 
Karl Blind arranged a meeting between Mazzini and 
Swinburne, and the young poet was solemnly invested 
with the mission of becoming the Bard of Liberty. This 
mentioning of Mazzini almost in the same breath with a 
buxom female acrobat may appear cynical; but in reality, 
the fact that Italy could count among foreigners her most 
enthusiastic poet was partly due to the desire, both of the 
poet himself and of his intimate friends, to give a saner 
aim to his energies by encouraging the potential sublima- 
tion of feeling which was discernible in him. In fact, the 
poet’s interest in the cause of liberty and Italy was of early 
date; as early as October 1866 he had spontaneously 
turned from ‘Rossetti and his followers in art (I’art pour 
I’art)’ to Italy and Mazzini, and thought of writing a ‘not 
inadequate expression of love and reverence towards him’. 
But the goddess Liberty whom the poet adored was only a 
sublimation of his own feminine type, a divinity intolerant 
of restraint or law (substitute for the woman of uncontrolled 
morals), fatal and cruel in exacting the sacrifice of human 
life (substitute for algolagnia). The anarchical theories of 
^ade and Blake provided Swinburne with a philosophical 
substratum. Even as the adorer of the Mater Dolorosa 
and Mater Triumphalis which Liberty represented to him, 
Swinburne is always, fundamentally, ‘the powerless victim 
of the furious rage of a beautiful woman’. His Liberty, 
like the Liberty in the picture by Delacroix {La Barricade)^ 



238 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

is the Liberty of the lamhes of Barbier, described thus in 

the Curie \ 

C’est une forte femme aux puissantes mamelles, 

A la voix rauque, aux durs appas, 

Qui, du brun sur la peaiji, du feu dans les prunelles, 

Agile et marchant k grands pas, 

Se plait aux cris du peuple, aux sanglantes mSIees, 

Aux longs roulements des tambours, 

A fodeur de la poudre, aux lointaines voltes 
Des cloches et des canons sourds, 

Qui ne prend des amours que dans la populace, 

Qui ne prSte son large flanc 

Qu’k des gens forts comme elle, et qui veut qu’on Pembrasse 
Avec des bras rouges de sang. 

She is the Liberty which Carducci, influenced by Bar- 
bier, portrayed as follows (in the Figesimo Anniversario 
deir Fill Agosto 1848 ) : 

Dura virago elPe, dure domanda 

Di perigli e d’amor pruove famose: 

In mezzo al sangue de la sua ghirlanda 
Crescon le rose,^s 

Both Welby and Nicolson agree that Swinburne^s idea 
of Liberty should be interpreted in this way, and Lafour- 
cade’s conclusion is unexceptionable: 

‘Dans la sensibilite de Swinburne est, je le crois du moins, la 
clef de P^nigme d’une nature tres complexe. Nous avons signale 
la precoce et troublante sensualite de son temperament; mais ce 
n’est pas seulement son attitude sexuelle qui est ainsi expliqude, c’est 
aussi son double et contradictoire penchant k la soumission et k la 
revoke, les enfantillages de son caractere, le melange de perversitfe 
les plus inquietantes avec une certaine virilite foncifere, une dignity 
et un equilibre proprement masculins.^ 

As regards this last point one reservation may be per- 
mitted* Nicolson has quite rightly pointed out in Swin- 
burne a Virility complex", an anxious desire to appear 
masculine, and an extreme susceptibility on this point. 
The origins of such a fixation are to be sought primarily 
in the years of his infancy, when his little girl cousins, so 
it seems, used to make a joke of the delicate build of the 
boy whom they called ‘Cousin Hadji". It seems also that 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 339 

these little girls used to bully him, but it may be super- 
fluous to attempt to see in this the origins of an erotic 
peculiarity which was undoubtedly developed by certain 
methods of discipline at Eton. Swinburne gave a well- 
known instance of his desire to assert his own virility when, 
his family having refused their Consent to his joining the 
army, he undertook the dangerous ascent of Culver Cliff. 
A less well-known and less attractive instance was his re- 
action to the reading of the love-letters of Keats to Fanny 
Brawne, published by H. Buxton Forman in 1878.^6 
^winburne actually reproved Keats for not having known 
how to love and die like a man and a gentleman. Obviously 
Watts-Dunton, whose ascendancy over Swinburne was at 
that time steadily increasing, had a say in this criticism; 
on the other hand, the retort might have been made to 
Swinburne that if by ‘loving like a gentleman’ he meant 
loving in the ways approved by such exquisite gentlemen 
as the Mar^chal Gilles de Rais and the Marquis de Sade, 
then Keats was certainly not a gentlemanly lover. 

20. As regards the influence of Swinburne’s conception 
of the Fatal Woman on English literature in general, the 
importance of the works so far discussed is perhaps not so 
great as that of one page of prose and one secondary poem 
which I shall now quote. 

The page of prose comes from the Notes on Designs of 
(he Old Masters in Florence, notes which were taken on the 
occasion of Swinburne’s visit to Florence in 1864 and 
which were published in the Fortnightly Review in July 
1868, and afterwards in Essays and Studies (1875). He is 
speaking of certain studies of female heads by Michael- 
angelo:* 

‘But in one separate head there is more tragic attraction . . . : 
a woman’s, three times studied, with divine and subtle care; 
sketched and re-sketched in youth and age, beautiful always beyond 
desire and cruel beyond words; feirer than heaven and more terrible 
'than hell; pale with pride and weary with wrong-doing; a silent 
anger against God and man bums, white and repressed, through her 
dear features. In one drawing she wears a head-dress of eastern 
flishion rather than western, but in effect made out of the artist’s 
mind only; plaited in the likeness of dosely-welded scales as of 



240 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

a chrysalid serpent, raised and waved and rounded in the likeness 
of a sea-shelL In some inexplicable way all her ornaments seem 
to partake of her fatal nature, to bear upon them her brand of 
|)eauty fresh from hell; and this through no vulgar machinery of 
symbolism, no serpentine or otherwise bestial emblem: the bracelets 
and rings are innocent enowgh in shape and workmanship; but 
in touching her flesh they have become infected with deadly and 
malignant meaning. Broad bracelets divide the shapely splendour 
of her arms; over the nakedness of her firm and luminous breasts, 
just below the neck, there is passed a band as of metal. Her eyes 
are full of proud and passionless lust after gold and blood; her hair, 
close and curled, seems ready to shudder in sunder and divide into 
snakes.67 Her throat, full and fresh, round and hard to the eye as 
her bosom and arms, is erect and stately, the head set firm on it 
without any droop or lift of the chin; her mouth crueller than 
|a tiger’s, colder than a snake’s, and beautiful beyond a woman’s. 
She is the deadlier Venus incarnate; 

'jroXXrj [xev iy OeotaL [r/V] ko^k dvwvvfxos 

ded' (Eur. Hipp, 1-2.) 

for upon earth also many names might be found for her: Lamia 
re-transformed, invested now with a fuller beauty, but divested of 
all feminine attributes not native to the snake — ^a Lamia loveless 
and unassailable by the sophist, readier to drain life out of her lover 
than to fade for his sake at his side; or the Persian Amestris, 
watching the only breasts on earth more beautiful than her own 
cut off from her rival’s living bosom; or Cleopatra, not dying but 
turning serpent under the serpent’s bite; or that queen of the 
extreme East who with her husband marked every day as it went 
by some device of a new and wonderful cruelty.^® In one design, 
where the cruel and timid face of a king rises behind her, this 
crowned and cowering head might stand for Ahab’s, and hers for 
that of Jezebel. . . , There is a drawing in the furthest room at the 
Buonarroti Palace which recalls and almost reproduces the design 
of these three. Here also the electric hair, which looks as though 
it would hiss and glitter with sparks if once touched, is wound up 
to a tuft with serpentine plaits and involutions; all that remains of 
it unbound falls in one curl, shaping itself into a snake’s likeness 
as it unwinds, right against a living snake held to the breast and 
throat This is rightly registered as a study for Cleopatra; but notice 
has not yet been accorded to the subtle and sublime idea which 
transforms her death by the aspic’s bite into a meeting of serpents 
which recognise and embrace, an encounter between the woman 
and the worm of Nile, almost as though this match for death were 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 241 

a monstrous love-match, or such a mystic marriage as that painted 
in the loveliest passage of SalammhS, between the maiden body and 
the scaly coils of the serpent and the priestess alike made sacred to 
the moon; so closely do the snake and the queen of snakes caress 
and cling. Of this idea Shakespeare also had a vague and great 
glimpse when he made Antony murmSir, “Where’s my serpent of 
old Nile?” mixing a foretaste of her death with the full sweet 
savour of her supple and amorous “pride of life”. For what indeed 
is lovelier or more luxuriously loving than a strong and graceful 
snake of the nobler kind ?’ 

It is hardly necessary to point out how little Swinburne’s 
imagination sticks to the drawings he is discussing: 
'TVIichaelangelo is translated into terms of Glautier. Even 
less regard for the original (an insignificant drawing by 
Frederick Sandys) is shown in the poem Cleopatra, pub- 
lished in the Cornhill Magazine in 1866.^ The type of 
‘fatal’ beauty was to such an extent fixed in the mind of 
Swinburne, that in criticizing another drawing by Sandys 
shown at the Academy in 1868, the poet made use of the 
!ame terms that we have already seen him use in the case 
}f Michaelangelo: 

‘A woman’s fece ... of rich, ripe, angry beauty; she draws one 
varm long lock of curling hair through her full and moulded lips, 
)iting it with bared bright teeth, which add something of a tiger’s 
harm to the sleepy and couching passion of her feir face.' 

c,‘ Angry’ is an inevitable epithet for this Fatal Woman, 
since the poet imagines himself in front of her as a ‘power- 
ess victim’. Behind the irate countenance of the beautiful 
Fury rises up the prosaic face of the Eton schoolmaster 
vho was the first to initiate the little boy — but oh, how 
innocently! — into the delights of flagellation. 

Cleopatra has been defined by Welby as a ‘minor 
v.masterpiece of decadent poetry’, in spite or the opinion of 
Meredith, who, seeing in it nothing but a farrago of the. 
commonplaces of Swinburne’s poetical style, persuaded' 
the poet not to reprint it. 

Her mouth is fragrant as a vine, 

A vine with birds in all its boughs, 

-Serpent and scarab for a sign 
Between the beauty of her brows 
And the amorous deep lids divine. . . . 



242 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Under those low large lids of hers 
She hath the histories of all time; 

The fruit of foliage-stricken years; 

The old seasons with their heavy chime 
That leaves its rhyme in the world’s ears. 

j She sees the hand^f death made bare, 

The ravelled riddle of the skies, 

The faces faded that were fair. 

The mouths made speechless that were wise, 

-The hollow eyes and dusty hair. , . . 

Dank dregs, the scum of pool or clod. 

God-spawn of lizard-footed clans, 

And those dog-headed hulks that trod 
Swart necks of the old Egyptians, 

Raw draughts of man’s beginning God; 

The poised hawk, quivering ere he smote. 

With plume-like gems on breast and back; 

The asps and water-worms afloat, 

Between the marsh flowers moist and slack; 

The cat’s warm black bright rising throat. . . . 

She holds her future close, her lips 
Hold fast the face of things to be; 

Actium, and sound of war that dips 
Down the blown valleys of the sea, 

Far sails that flee, and storms of ships; 

The laughing red sweet mouth of wine 
At ending of life’s festival; 

That spice of cerecloths, and the fine 
White bitter dust funereal 
Sprinkled on all things for a sign. 

For Swinburne, too, Cleopatra is an impersonation of 
Jthe supreme feminine ideal, as she was for Gautier, who 
described her as ‘la femme la plus complete qui ait jamais 
exists, la plus femme et la plus reine, un type admirable, 
auquel les pofetes n'ont pu rien ajouter, et que les songeurs 
trouvent toujours au bout de leurs rfives’.'^o 

21. There remained nevertheless one thing still to be 
added to this troe of beauty, a thing at which Gautier had 
just hinted in Etudes de mains \ 

On voit tout cela dans les lignes 
De cette paume. . . . {Imperia) 



H3 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 

Tous les vices avec leurs griffes 
Ont, dans les plis de cette peau, 

Trac6 d’afFreux hieroglyphes. . • . 

(Lacenatre) 

It was"^alter Pater who mad^the great discovery, who 
traced the history of the Fatal Woman in the already cele- 
brated smile of the Gioconda, ‘the unfathomable smile, 
always with a touch of something sinister in it, which plays 
over all Leonardo’s work’J^ A letter from Swinburne^^ 
shows quite clearly the origin of Pater’s famous ‘piece’ 
about Monna Lisa. He wrote on April nth, 1873, 
Lord Morley: 

admire and enjoy Pater’s work [i.e. Studies in the History of 
the Renaissance^ 1873] so heartily that I am somewhat shy of saying 
how much, ever since on my telling him once at Oxford how 
highly Rossetti as well as myself estimated his first papers in the 
Fortnightlyy he replied to the effect that he considered them as 
owing their inspiration entirely to the example of my own work 
in the same line.’ 

The following is the celebrated passage from Pater’s 
study of Leonardo: 

‘The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is 
expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come 
to desire. Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world 
are come”,73 and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beautyf 
wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, litde cell by 
cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. 
Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or 
beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by 
this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! 
All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and 
moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make 
expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of 
Rome, the mpticism of the Middle Age with its spiritual ambition 
and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of 
the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; 

I like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the 
secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps 
)their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with 
Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, 

R2 



244 the romantic AGONY 

and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to 
her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy 
with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged 
the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping 
together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern philo- 
sophy has conceived the idea«of humanity as wrought upon by, and 
summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady 
Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol 
disf the modern idea.’ 

The family likeness between this portrait and the Fatal 
Women of Gautier, Flaubert, and Swinburne strikes one 
immediately. Monna Lisa, like Swinburne’s Faustine, is 
-/a vampire; she, too, like Dolores, Cleopatra, and the 
anonymous figure drawn by Michaelangelo, has accumu- 
lated in herself all the experiences of the world; and there 
are details of comparison which prove her Swinburnian 
origin. For instance, the passage ‘and all this has been to 
her but as the sound of lyres and flutes’ is reminiscent of 
Laus Veneris, ‘the languor in her ears of many lyres’. 

Pater’s description popularized the Fatal Woman type 
(with its perspective in time and space and its Gioconda 
smile) to such an extent that, during the years round about 
1880, it became the fashion among the allumeuses in cer- 
Itain circles in Paris to affect the enigmatic smile. The face 
of the Principessa di Belgiojoso, as described in the Con- 
fessions of Arsfene Houssaye,^'* was ‘un pur chef d’oeuvre 
de Joconde inassouvie’. The Fatal Woman in Le Vice 
suprime, by P^ladan (1884), who was partly modelled on 
the Principessa di Belgiojoso, adopted the habit of cutting 
short a declaration of love with ‘un sourire la Lise’; and 
Lorrain, evoking memories of those times in Monsieur de 
Phocas, speaks of the ‘vices d’enseigne’ employed by 
courtesans ‘pour amorcer le client’, and exclaims: 

‘Dire que j’ai aim6, moi aussi, ces petites b^tes mal&isantes, ces 
fausses Primavera, ces "Joconde au rahiis des ateliers de peintres et 
de braveries d’esthetes, ces fleurs en fil d’archal de Montparnasse 
et de Levallois-Perret!’ 

The following composition, supposed to be translated 
from the Proven9al and put into the mouth of one of the 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 245 

characters in he Vice sufrimey brings out all the elements 
of the cliche X 

RITRATTO MULIEBRE 

L Plus pile que Paube d^hiver, plus blanche que la cire des 
cierges, ^ 

Ses deux mains ramen^es sur sa poitrine plate, 

Elle se tient tres droite dans sa robe, rouge 

Du sang des coeurs qui sont morts k saigner pour elle. 

La perversite niche aux coins de sa bouche; 

Ses sourires sont empennes de d^dain; 

Dans ses yeux pers, diamants cerul^ens 
Qui fixent des lointaines chimeres, 

Sa pens6e file le rouet des impossibility. 

II 

IIs sont morts damufe; elle est restee pile, 

Les Ifevres ferm^es sur son secret. 

L’Amour qui n’est que I’amour, la vertu dans le crime, 

Elle n’en a pas voulu. 

Cyar Borgia et Saint-Fran^ois d’ Assise en un, elle eut aime; 
Mais le monstre n’est pas venu et sa pensfe a continue 
A filer le rouet des impossibility. 

III. Dans Pattente du Bien-Aime, elle n’a point eu d’amants. 

Elle Peiit presse, ^touff^ peut-^tre, sur sa poitrine plate. 

La grenade eiit fleuri i ses joues, sa levre se fut ouverte au 
baiser, 

Si Saint Michel eiit pu 6tre aussi Satan, si Satan eiit ete Saint 
Michel. 

Leonard, le maftre subtil, Pa ^ternisfe sur ce panneau. . . . 

Fidele i ton vice monstrueux, 0 Fille du Vinci, Muse 
Depravante de Pesthyique du mal, ton sourire peut s’efiacer 
sur la toile, 

II est facsimile dans mon coeur. , . . 

Chimere, ta vue m’altere de cette soif du Beau Mai, 

S ue tu est morte sans savoir. 

soeur de la Joconde, 6 sphinx pervers, je t’aime! 

This lyrical effusion is thus commented upon by another 
character in the novel: 

‘C’est d’un sentiment moderne exquis et raffine. On dirait du 
Petrarque d’une poyie dont Baudelaire serait le Dante,’ 



246 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

But I do not intend to trace here the history of the Gio- 
conda smile, down to Aldous Huxley’s parody of it (‘The 
Joconda Smile’ in Mortal Coihy^^ more curious, perhaps, is 
the change of appearance which the Fatal Woman under- 
went in a poem by Wilc^, The Sphinx (published in 1894 
in an edition de luxe with decorations by Charles Ricketts). 

22. As always — and this is especially true of his poetry 
— Wilde irresistibly reminds one of his sources.’® 

The Sphinx. . . . The poet’s elegant, languid sphinx is a 
cat, half woman, half animal — see the Fleurs du Mai, 
where the cat is a senhal of the black Venus beloved by the 
poet (Viens, mon beau chat . . . and Dans ma cervelle sepro- 
mene . . .). But Wilde inflates his cat to the proportions of 
Cleopatra: 

A thousand weary centuries are thine . . . 

But you can read the Hieroglyphs on the great sandstone obelisks. 
And you have talked with Basilisks, and you have looked on 
Hippogrifis. 

O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to Osiris knelt ? 

And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union for Antony?. . . 
And did you mark the Cyprian kiss white Adon on his cata&lque ? 

. . . Sing me all your memories! 

Sing to me of the Jewish maid who wandered with the holy child. 

• 

Sing to me of that odorous green eve when couching by the marge 
You heard from Adrian’s gilded barge the laughter of Antinous. 

The ivory body of that rare young slave with his pomegranate 
mouth! 

Who were your lovers ? . . . 

Then we plunge all at once right into the middle of 
Dolores: 

* 

. . . Who were they who wrestled for you in the dust? 
Which was the vessel of your lust ? What Leman had you, every 
day? 

Did giant Lizards come and crouch before you on the reedy banks ? 
Did Gryphons with great metal flanks leap on you in your trampled 
couch ? 

Did monstrous hippopotami come sidling towards you in the mist? 
H^re the model is Swinburne's Cleopatra^ but there is 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 247 

no point in pursuing the recital of the Sphinx’s amorous 
couplings with dragons, with chimaeras, and finally with 
Leviathan, Behemoth and Tragelaphos of the ivory horns. 
. . . Wilde ransacks the dictionary for fabulous monsters. 
But now we come to the point — ^the Gioconda smile: 

How subde-secret is your smile! Did you love none then ? Nay, 
I know 

Great Ammon was your bedfellow! . . . 

With blood of goats and blood of steers you taught him monstrous 
miracles. 

White Ammon was your bedfellow ! Y our chamber was the steam- 
' ing Nile, 

And with your curved archaic smile you watched his passion come 
and go. 

Wilde cannot resist endowing Ammon with eyes so 
blue that ‘The seas could not insapphirine the perfect 
'^azure of his eyes’; no more can he resist, when he has 
named a precious stone, naming several others also, in the 
maiuier of the thorough aesthete, and bringing in Oriental 
merchants as well (Pater’s Gioconda, too, had trafficked 
with Eastern merchants). Then comes the inevitable hymn 
to Paganism, with its Keats-like exclamation: 'Away to 
Egypt!’ 

Away to Egypt! Have no fear. Only one God has ever died. 
Only one God has let his side be wounded by a soldier’s spear. 

But these, thy lovers, are not dead. . . . 

He invites the Sphinx-cat, if she is weary of all the dead 
deities whom he has so cunningly passed in review, to take 
as her lover a lion, or a tiger, and to strike him with her 
jasper claws or crush him against her agate breasts. 

JWhy are you tarrying? Get hence! . . . 

Your pulse makes poisonous melodies, and your black throat is like 
the hole 

Left by some torch or burning coal on Saracenic tapestries. 

What snake-tressed fury fresh from Hell, with uncouth gestures 
and unclean. 

Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen and led you to a student’s cell ? 

Having begun with reminiscences of Baudelaire’s 



248 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

this poetical medley concludes with the accents of Poe V 

Raven : 

What songless tongueless ghost of sin crept through the curtains of 
the night, 

And saw my taper burning bright, and knocked, and bade you 
enter in ? 

Observe how the rhythm resembles that of The Raven : 
Get hence, you loathsome mystery! Hideous animal, get hence! 

'^You wake in me each bestial sense . . . 

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! . . . leave me to my crucifix. 

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches the world with 
wearied eyes. 

And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps for every soul in vain. 

Wilde gives a similar picture of the eternal prostitute 
in The New Helen x 

Where hast thou been since round the walls of Troy 

The sons of God fought in that great emprise ? 

Why dost thou walk our common earth again ? 

This poem is, as usual, a tissue of reminiscences (Keats, 
Swinburne, &c.). 

This would be an opportune moment to introduce 
Wilde’s incarnation of the Fatal Woman — Salome. But 
before leaving the subject of Swinburne we must observe 
how his particular type of Fatal Woman served as a model 
to D’Annunzio. 

23. There is a story that, when the first of D’Annun- 
zio’s plagiarisms came to light, Enrico Nencioni rebuked 
his young friend for resorting to such expedients, as being 
unworthy of a great poet. I do not know whether the title 
of ‘Rhapsody’ is in itself a justification for the introduction 
of non-ori^nal themes, but it is certain that Nencioni’s 
own Rafsodia Lirica, published in the April— June 1896 
number of the Convito (Book VIII), is a frank mixture of 
passages from Swinburne. And since the subject of this 
Rapsodia is the synthetic Fatal Woman whose portrait 
I have been gradually unfolding, let us see what is 
Nencioni’s idea of her. 

The starting-point of the poem is supplied by Edgar 
Poe, as the author himself indicates, but after a few rather 
discursive bars he timidly introduces Swinburnian material. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 2+9 

The worthy Nencioni does not risk entering upon an ex- 
cursus of the former incarnations of the Fatal Woman 
without resorting to the feeblest of all expedients, the 
dream. His guide here must have been chapter xix of 
Heine’s ^tta Troll (of which Nencioni imitates the metre), 
where, from the witch Uraka’s i^ndow, are seen coming 
forth three famous beauties, Diana, the fairy Abunde, and 
Salome. The ingenuous Italian treats Swinburne’s scab- 
rous poety in a bourgeois fashion, and in making it thus 
respectable takes away from it all virulence and transforms 
the synthesis of voluptuousness into a provincial portrait 
gallery of famous female sinners, as some worthy writer of 
the seventeenth century might have done. ‘When sacred 
night stretches her veil over the Earth’, says Nencioni 
(then he slips in an echo of Shelley’s Summer Evening 
Churchyard', ‘like thick, dusky hair over a pale face’), ‘then 
in a dream I see thy face, thy hair, thine eyes, and with 
the dream appear to me lovely forms of antique beauty.’ 

He sees Hesione, Swinburne, in The Masque of Queen 
Bersabe, had said that the body of Hesione was ‘as fire that 
.shone’; Nencioni, however, contents himself with saying 
that she is ‘white’ and has ‘snowy feet’/ Swinburne had 
said that Hesione had ‘the summer in her haip’, and that 
■^ll the pale gold autumn air — Was as the habit of her 
^ense’; Nencioni says, ‘the golden hair which covers thee 
all, like a mantle of gold’. 

In the next verse Nencioni attaches himself to the more 
familiar Carducci: Helen, ‘the perfect beauty, smiles to 
Homer and to Goethe’ — one is left to imagine — ^with the 
convivial cheerfulness so typical of Carducci. Then he 
continues with a shy hint at Swinburne’s sadistic Phaedra 
— ^who was destined to receive less summary treatment at 
the hands of D’Annunzio— giving her nevertheless the 
lines that Swinburne gives to Myrrha in the Masque'. ‘As 
tears upon the eyes, as fire upon dry logs, so clinging sin 
feeds upon her divine form; her blood burns, the hurricane 
convulses it like the waves.’ 

^ As tears on eyes, as fire on wood. 

Sin fed upon my breath and blood. 

Sin made my breasts subside and swell. 



250 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

The poet looks next at Semiramis, who has ‘rough, 
thick hair . . . like that of a Barbary mare’ {Laus Veneris^ 
‘her hair most thick . . . deep in the mane . . . like a steed’) ; 
at Faustina, . . with temples large and burning, a mouth 
athirst and hungering and dumb, like the grave’s mouth’, 
just as Swinburne had described not Faustina, but Messa- 
lina in the Masque however, Nencioni goes back to 
Faustine for his next verse, on the ‘dying gladiator’. Then 
he describes Sappho, who, however, is not made to change 
habit with any other of the Swinburnian ladies : ‘Her face 
yis pale like dying fire; but love beats in her veins like hot 
wine. Sappho sings — intolerable desire consumes her.’ 

The intolerable infinite desire 
Made my face pale like feded fire. 

• * • « • 

My blood was hot wan wine of love. 

And my song’s sound the sound thereof . . . 

But the dream ends : ‘Thou appearest — and the visions 
all vanish — ^and thy black Oriental fairy-eyes shine alone 
amid the darkness.* 

The visions vanish, but not the reminiscences : Anactoria, 
Phaedra . . ., to finish, in the fifth part, with The Garden 
of Proserpine. I do not insist on comparisons, and merely 
remark that familiarity with the sinister creatures of Swin- 
burne did not prevent Nencioni (‘Omnia munda mundis’ 1) 
from concluding with the most blandly Pre-Raphaelite 
jmage: ‘Over thy head the angels flutter, beneath thy feet 
twinkle the stars.’ 

I should like to record here the remark of Brie,’® a 
foreigner who cannot be suspected of partiality: ‘In Italy 
the unsophisticated attitude of the national character to- 
wards life and towards the world of the senses was not 
naturally receptive of such tendencies as ennui and exoti- 
/fcism.’ An objection might perhaps be made to this remark 
on the grounds of the long-established repufcition of the 
Italians for extreme refinement in erotic invention,’® so it 
must be supposed that all this great quantity of sensual ^ 
effervescence found its outlet in the strictly practical field, 
without ever degenerating into cold and morbid indul- 
gence (except in extremely rare cases — among which must 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 251 

be counted that of F. D. Guerrazzi, whose delight in 
dwelling upon spectacles of horror was by no means 
matched with a corresponding artistic skill in describing 
them).®° In this sense it is possible to say that the Italian 
attitude to the world of the senses ^continued to be genuine 
and instinctive, even in spite of freedom of morals. 

The case of the worthy Nencioni may serve as an illus- 
tration; the morbid themes of Swinburne become, in his 
hands, innocuous, even insipid. In Angelo Conti also, the 
aesthete who served D’Annunzio as model for Daniele 
Glauro in II Fuoco, the signs of decadence are barely 
visible. An admirer of Schopenhauer, of Wagner, and of 
Pater, in his study on Giorgione (1894) he sees what he 
calls the ‘tristezza della volutta’ in Giorgione’s work: he 
describes him as ‘il poeta del tormento e della bizzarria 
entro cui si nasconde lo spasimo’ (‘the poet of anguish and 
of strangeness in which pain is hidden’.) But these are 
only passing hints; his interpretation of the smile of the 
Gioconda (p. 56 of the study already quoted) is enough to 
show how little he was affected by Decadent influences: 

‘It is the likeness of a smile which transcends all other expressions 
■^of the human smile. It is a movement, a light, which passes from 
the woman’s lips and eyes into the winding rivers of the landsotpe, 
broadening and invading the whole landscape and becoming the 
smile of Nature herself. The miracle of a perfect harmony between 
man and things is accomplished.’ 

It was quite otherwise in the case of D’Anntmzio, who, 
let it be said at once, was the first to introduce the 
Italians to the Anglo-French Byzantium of the end of the 
century.®’' 

24. D’Annunzio (in the Mattino of January 1 8th-i 9th, 
1893, and later in the Poema Paradisiaco, in the same year) 
was the first to bring to the notice of Italian readers the 
Fatal Woman who united in herself the whole sensual ex- 
perience of the world — ^Pamphila, reincarnation of Helen 
and Sappho: 

‘Possessed by all men, from the be^r to the lord, covered with 
immemorial kisses, thy last descendant, O Helen, still surrounded 
with ancient mystery. . . . 

‘This is the woman I shall love. Upon her impure limbs I shall 



252 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

gather all earthly desire, I shall know all the love of the world; 
in her eyes I shall pursue shadows of things obscure; beneath her 
arid breast I shall hear the deep beat of her heart. 

T shall kiss her hands, her hands of ripe experience ... in whose 
musical fingers, perhaps, a lyre sounded in ancient times among the 
breezes of Lesbos over herwiative Aegean, where the rose-groves 
of Mytilene, dear to the secret maid-companions of violet-haired 
Sappho, wafted their scent. . . . 

‘. . . I shall learn all the sweetest and most ardent names which, 
in sigh or cry, she has given to a thousand lovers; I shall drink, 
drop by drop, all the perfumes of the most distant forests, distilled 
in her liquid breath. . . .’ 

A comparison of the whole poem with the passages of 
Flaubert already quoted (pp. 210 et seq.) will prove the 
paternity of this synthetic courtesan of D’Annunzio, who 
used the Tentation de Saint Antoine as a perennial source of 
inspiration. Thovez®^ noticed certain analogies with the 
passage from Novemhre I have mentioned, which was pub- 
lished in 1 8 8 6 in Par les champs et par les greves. But it was 
again the passage from the Tentation on Helfene-Ennoia 
that suggested to D’Annunzio the lines on the old age of 
Helen in the first book of Le Laudi. It was from a similar 
point of view that Stelio Effrena felt the charm of La 
Foscarina, in II Fuoco 

‘And a heavy sadness urged him into the last embrace of the 
lonely, wandering woman, who seemed to him to carry in herself, 
mute and gathered into the folds of her garments, the frenzy of 
distant crowds in whose dense bestiality she had stirred the divine 
lightning-flash of art, with a cry of passion, a pang of pain, or the 
silence of death; an impure yearning forced him towards this 
experienced, desperate woman, in whom he believed he could trace 
the marks of all pleasures and all pain, towards this body no longer 
young, softened by every caress, but still, to him, unknown.’ 

In the autumn of 1893 there appeared in the Mattino 
the cycle of sonnets on Adulteresses, which was afterwards 
included in the Intermezzo of 1894. The poetry of the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries affords numerous 
examples of similar sonnet-cycles, but others had been 
written in more recent times in France, by Theodore de 
Banville (in Les Exiles, 1867, and Les Princesses, 1874). 
Banville’s procession of wanton queens is like that in the 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 253 

Masque of Queen Bersabe, except that the ‘Parnassien’, in- 
stead of making his princesses speak in the first person, 
describes them at the culminating moment of their careers, 
as in the sonnet-pictures of the eighteenth-century writers. 
D’Annunzio does the same thine with his adulteresses. 
The spirit of these evocations is clearly expressed in Ban- 
ville’s introductory sonnet. When the poet recalls the dead 
to life 

On revolt dans un riche et fabuleux d&or 
Des meurtres, des amours, des levres ingenues, 

Des vStements ouverts montrant des jambes nues, 

Du sang et de la pourpre et des ^rafes d’or. 

Et leurs levres s’ouvrir comme des fleurs sanglantes. 

D’Annunzio had already given a prose portrait of a 
cruel, fatal woman in the Trionfo della Morte (1894; the 
first edition appeared in the Tribuna Illustrata in 1890, 
with the title of L' Invincibile'). Giorgio Aurispa, an intel- 
lectual who represents the phenomenon of decayed will- 
power, is contrasted with Ippolita Sanzio, who represents 
obstinate sexual will-power becoming a sort of carnal 
doom: 

‘ “Cruelty lurks hidden in her love”, he thought. “There is , 
something destructive in her, which becomes the more evident the*^ 
more violent her orgasm. . . .” And he saw again in memory the 
terrific, almost Gorgon-like vision of her as she had often appeared 
to him, when, convulsed by a spasm or inert in final exhaustion, 
he had looked at her through half-closed eyelids.’®+ 

At one moment the figure of the woman becomes 
gigantic, and attains an almost mythological scale: there 
are united in her ‘the sovran virtues of the women who 
are destined to rule the world with the scourge of their 
impure beauty’:®® 

‘All this time she had not moved. This prolonged immobility in 
one attitude, which sometimes took on the appearance of a trance 
and became almost terrifying, vras not unusual in her. In this state 
she no longer wore a youthful, merciful aspect such as she showed 
towards plants and animals, but the aspect of a silent, unconquerable 
being in whom is concentrated the whole strength of the passion 
of love, which isolates, excludes, and destroys. The three divine 



254 the romantic AGONY 

qualities of her beauty — ^her forehead, her eyes, her mouth — ^had 
perhaps never attained to such a degree of intensity in their symbolic 
expression of the very principle of eternal feminine fascination. 
The calm night seemed to favour this sublimation of her form, 
releasing her true, ideal essence and allowing her lover a complete 
perception of her, with a»> acuteness not of eye but of thought. 
The summer night, laden with moonlight and with all dreams, 
with stars pale or invisible and with the most melodious voices of 
the sea, seemed the natural background for this supreme figure. 
Just as a shadow sometimes enlarges out of all proportion the body 
which produces it, so, against this infinite background, the fatality 
of love made the figure of Ippolita taller and more tragic in the 
eyes of the man who watched, and in whom the power of prescience 
became every moment more lucid and more terrible. 

On another occasion Ippolita seems no more than a 
brutal love-machine, like Swinburne’s Faustine; she also 
is ‘the pale, voracious Roman, unexcelled in the art of 
j breaking the loins of men’.^^ 

You seem a thing that hinges hold, 

A love-machine 

With clockwork joints of supple gold — 

No more, Faustine. 

‘Her very mouth, her elastic, sinuous mouth, at whose contact 
her lover had so often felt a kind of instinctive, undefinable terror, 
now seemed deprived of its spell and to be reduced to the ph)^ical 
aspect of a common brute organ with which even the idea of a kiss 
was associated as a mechanical action devoid of all nobility.’®® 

Introspection is a painful pleasure to Giorgio Aurispa; 
his whole being yearns for death (‘Death, in fact, attracts 
me’); in his supreme disgust at the woman, the Enemy, 
he kills both her and himself. Reading between the lines 
of the novel one can see that the reason devised by Giorgio 
Aurispa for getting rid of the woman — ^that she was the 
obstacle to his spiritual life — ^is only a noble and avowable 
excuse for a more profound reason, the same that drove 
Giorgio to torment himself — ^his deep-seated, instinctive 
sadism. One does not xmderstand, when one comes upon 
explanations such as the following, how the author can 
himself have failed to realize the motive of the final 
catastrophe: 

‘Hereditary lust burst forth once more, with invincible fury, in 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 255 

this delicate lover who liked to call his mistress his sister and who 
was greedy for spiritual communion.’^^ 

And 

* “How her beauty becomes spiritualized in sickness and in weak- 
-'ness!” thought Giorgio. “I like her better when she is thus broken. 
I recognize the unknown woman who passed by me that February 
evening, the woman without a drop of blood in her veins, I think that 
in death she will attain to the supreme expression of her beauty.” 

25', Andrea Sperelli, the protagonist of II Piacere^ pro- 
fessed the greatest horror for sadism, but was he honest 
with himself.? Is not the Chimaera, in his fictitious Re di 
Cipro^ made to evoke the typically Flaubertian combina- 
tion of ‘slaughter-lust’ ? 

‘Dost thou wish to fight? to kill? to see rivers of blood? great 
heaps of gold? herds of captive women? slaves? and other, still 
other spoils ? Dost thou wish to bring marble to life ? to build a 
temple? to compose an immortal Hymn? Dost thou wish (hear 
me, young man, hear me!) dost thou wish to love divinely?^ 

Even if Sperelli was not honest with himself, this at 
any rate is not true of Tullio Hermil in UInnocente (1891- 
1892): 

‘Inquisitive and perverse, it seemed to me that the feeble life of 
the convalescent woman burned and melted beneath my kiss; and 
I thought that this voluptuousness had almost a flavour of incest. 
“What if she were to die of it?” I thought. Certain words of the 
surgeon came back to my memory, wiA sinister meaning. And, 
with the cruelty which lies concealed in all sensual men, the danger 
did not frighten, but attracted, me. I lingered over the examina- 
tion of my feelings with a sort of bitter complacency, mingled with 
disgust, such as I brought to the analysis of all interior manifesta- 
tions which seemed to me to furnish a proof of the fundamental 
wickedness of humanity. “Why has man in his nature this horrible 
faculty of rejoicing more keenly when he is conscious of doing 
harm to the being from whom he derives his happiness? Why is 
there the germ of this most execrable sadistic perversion in every 
man who loves and desires?” 

D’Annunzio, at any rate, made his own attitude clearer 
and clearer to his readers. And the influence of Swinburne’s 
Poems and Ballads helped to hasten this explanation. 
But the ‘libido’ of D’Annunzio has been adequately 



2S6 the romantic agony 

studied by Borgese, and later by Flora,’^ so that a few 
remarks will be sufficient here. 

It must be observed, to begin with, how transparent the 
content of La Gioconda (1899) becomes when one reads 
one particular page of II Trionfo della Morte and two stanzas 
of the poem Le Mani (in Poema Paradisiaco, from the Cor- 
riere di Napoli of November 2 9th— 30th, 1891). This page 
of II Trionfo della Morte describes ffie moment when 
Giorgio Aurispa imagines he is chopping off the hands of 
Ippolita at the wrists : 

‘He placed the two wrists side by side and again made the move- 
ment of chopping them through at one stroke. The image rose up 
in his mind as vivid as if it were real. — ^On the marble threshold 
of a door full of shadow and expectancy appeared the woman who 
was destined to die, holding out her bare arms, at the extremities 
of which throbbed two red fountains gushing from the severed veins 
of her wrists,’ 

In the poem we read : 

‘Other (or perhaps the same 1) alabaster hands, but stronger than 
a snake’s coil, inspired me with jealous fury, with mad anger; and 
I longed to cut them off. (In a dream stands, enticing, the mutilated 
woman. In a dream, erect and motionless, lives the terrible woman 
with the severed hands. And beside her two pools are red with 
blood, and within them are her hands, still living, but unstained 
by a angle drop.)’ 

It is obvious that D’Annunzio, in this poem, derives 
from Maeterlinck, but in the Belgian poet’s Attomhements 
(in Serres chaudelp^ the following is the only hint of blood 
to be found, and that an extremely innocent one: 

Mais ayez piti6 des mains froides! 

Je vois un coeur saigner sous des c&tes de glace! 

This, however, was enough to make D’Annunzio insert 
yet another reminiscence into his poem.’® It is not for 
nothing that, in the fourth act of La Gioconda^ the poem 
that La Sirenella sings to the mutilated heroine is the 
translation of a Swinburne ballad. The King's Daughter. 
One might almost say that the very smell of blood was 
enough to call up the presence of the Divine Marquis’s 
great poet-disciple. 

Nevertheless D’Annunzio seemed determined not to 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 257 

look closely into the morbid nature of his inspiration; 
hence the equivocal flavour of his books and the bewilder- 
ment of the public. Leonardo in La Cilta Morta (1898), 
who (like Umbelino who killed Pantea, in Le Vergini delle 
Roccef^ killed his own sister for \^hom he had conceived 
an incestuous passion, and then declared himself to be 
‘pure’ — he also is a victim of the same pitiful illusion as 
Giorgio Aurispa, and his last speech, from beginning to 
end, is a disagreeable lie which he tells to himself. Swin- 
burne may sound shameless, but not false; D’Annunzio, 
through lack of sincerity towards himself, sounds hope- 
lessly false. 

Both Tullio Hermil and Giorgio Aurispa have inter- 
course with women who are scarcely convalescent from 
diseases of the womb. Elena gives herself to Sperelli when 
she is ill. In Ippolita Giorgio possesses an epileptic, and 
Paolo Tarsis, in Isabella Inghirami, a lunatic.*’ Sterility 
also, a characteristic of D’Annunzio’s women, acts as a 
sadistic stimulus. ‘She is sterile. Her womb is accursed. 
. . . The uselessness of her love seemed to him a monstrous 
transgression against the supreme law’ (Trionfo della Morte, 
p. 361). Giorgio Aurispa is especially attracted by the 
bodily defects of Ippolita: ‘The most vulgar features had 
an irritating attraction for him’ (p. 360). Stelio Effrena is 
excited by the faisandage of La Foscarina. A ‘transgres- 
sion’ from the normal, in fact, seems to be a sine qua non 
of D’Annunzio’s love stories. 

In the Sogno d'un Mattino di Primavera (i 897) a woman 
who has held her murdered lover a whole night in her 
arms sees herself, in her madness, perpetually covered with 
his blood; in the Sogno d’un Tramonto dAutunno (1898) the 
harlot Pantea (whom we shall mention again shortly) is 
burnt alive through an incantation placed upon her by her 
rival (this has some similarity to Rossetti’s Sister Helen) 
together with her Bucentoro, while all round her men are 
fighting to the death. D’Annunzio dwells with especial 
delight upon this idea of a woman burnt alive, as for 
instance in La Figlia di lorio and in La Nave. A variant 
of the woman burnt alive is La Pisanella, the harlot suffo- 
cated beneath a heap of roses. There is also the description 



258 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

of the crime of the shepherd of Fondi, who burned alive 
the woman whom he loved, in Forse che si. In this last case 
the author’s delectatio morhosa is doubled — ^both at the 
horror of the deed and at the contamination which its re- 
cital brings upon the young girls who are listening to it. 

“The girk trembled at this savage vision of implacable love. . . . 
Each thought she felt a rough hand laid upon her delicate body, 
each became a prey and a victim. And they palpitated, offering 
themselves to the passion which was to devastate them.’®* 

In La Gloria (1899) a Fatal Woman ‘capable of setting 
the world on fire’, the last Comnena, ‘pale, impure, wicked, 
voracious, consumed with pride, full of revenge, greedy 
for power and gold’, a figure that might have been taken 
bodily from Pdladan’s Decadence latine, brings to per- 
dition all the men who approach her, and ends by bestow- 
ing death, together with her last kiss, upon the cowardly 
Ruggero Flamma. A frenzied, murderous virgin, rein- 
carnation of Electra, appears in II Ferro. The death of two 
incestuous lovers, whiclx is the theme of Francesca, is pre- 
sented in the manner of a genuine algolagnic outburst in 
La Parisina : ‘The two heads shall be upon the same block, 
beneath the same axe, and the two fountains of blood shall 
make but one pool.’®^ 

In Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien the delights of martyr- 
dom are expressed with unambiguous accents, nor is there 
much difference between these accents and those of the 
prisoners shot with arrows by Basiliola. The stage direc- 
tion of La Nave runs: ‘She hearkens to these madmen, 
because she is now totally swayed by a longing to look 
upon bloodshed, a longing which torments the obscure 
bestial nature of human females.’ 

This feeling, which D’Annunzio describes in La Nave 
as the ‘contagio della firenesia funebre’ (‘contagion of 
funereal frenzy’), surely also inspired the pages of Gli 
Idolatri (Novelle del Pescara), and the scenery of Cabiria, 
and many passages which deal with war. And did not the 
poet also write apropos of La Gloria'. ‘There is always 
something carnal, something resembling carnal violence, 
a mixture of cruelty and intoxication, which accompanies 
the act of generation of my brain’ ? 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 259 

Here at any rate he seems to be honest with himself. 
But again in 1913 {JLa Leda senza Cigno ) — ^that is, after 
he had already rivalled even Swinburne in evocations of 
morbid sensuality, both in plays and novels — ^we again 
see D’Annunzio recoiling, as though from something 
alien to him, from a spectacle of "^ignominious sensuality’ 
like that offered by the Marquis of Mount Edgcumbe to 
Andrea Sperelli. Such a lack of coherence and clear- 
sightedness makes one think of the case of Baudelaire’s 
Mademoiselle Bistouri. 

26. Plagiarism means implicit adherence and accep- 
tance. D’Annunzio, by infusing into his work Swinburne’s 
type of ‘criminal sensuality’, admitted as a consequence an 
affinity with Swinburne and recognized himself in him, as 
he recognized himself also in Nietzsche — ^another of 
Sade’s disciples — ^and in Wagner somehow he accepted 
a responsibility. 

The Fatal Woman as imagined by Swinburne became 
grafted on to D’Annunzio’s own intuition and completed 
it; and all that a critic can do is to deplore the suppleness 
of the latter’s mind — z suppleness which caused him to 
recognize an adequate rendering of his own feelings in the 
■writings of others, when, "with a little more concentration, 
he might have been more original. One may agree ■with 
the following remark of Gargiulo,*®^ pro^vided one bears in 
mind that its scope is limited by D’Annunzio’s plagiarism 
in the case in question: 

‘There appears, in the Sogno d^un Tramonio d'AtctmnOf a female 
character. Pantea, who might well be called a “superwoman”. Now 
Ippolita Sanzio, protagonist of 11 Trionfo della Morte-, Quines with 
a certain success, towards the end of the novel, the character of the 
woman who is simply and solely Woman, beautiful, instinctive, 
perverse, fascinatii^. Pantea is the translation of Ippolita into a 
superhuman world: she is the “superwqgi^”, absolute beau^ \ 
l/atelute instinct, absolute perverseness, absolute, charm. . . . One 
sees with a sense of pain, in the poet’s recent productions, what has 
become of certain intuitions of psychological reality of a sensual 
description, which, in part at all events, he had achieved a long 
time before.’ 

This ‘dominant image of a superwoman, which originates 



26 o the romantic AGONY 

in a frenzied artificiality and abstraction’, as Gargiulo calls 
it, is derived from the First Series of Poems and Ballads \ 
but in the So^o d'un Tramonto d*Autunno nothing but its 
vague outline is to be seen, nor can much more be dis- 
cerned of the young lover than a vague outline, though the 
small amount visible is enough to show his resemblance to 
the type of man we have already met in Swinburne : 

‘And she touched lightly with her naked feet and with the wing- 
lets upon them the full goblets and the young man’s hairj and at 
last she placed her heel upon his temple and held it thus pressed 
down; then he dosed his eyes, and truly he was as pale as the 
linen doth.’ 

We have already seen in Swinburne^ what such an act 
signifies. We may add to the passages from an unpub- 
lished work of Swinburne already quoted the following 
passage from The Triumph of Time in Poems and Ballads-. 

But if we had loved each other — O sweet. 

Had you felt, lying under the palms of your feet. 

The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure 
To feel you tread it to dust and death . . . 

The speeches of the Dogaressa Gradeniga, also, are a 
tissue of passages from Phaedra, Laus Veneris, Anactoria, 
Dolores, Hesperia, The Masque of Queen Bersabe, AtEleusis. 
D’Annunzio used the French version by G. Mourey, 
which came out in Paris in 1891, as is proved by certain 
exactly parallel expressions. For example, where Swin- 
burne has ‘a manifold flower’, D’Annunzio puts ‘un fiore 
numeroso’, following Mourey (‘une fleur nombreuse’). In 
another place, in La Nave (p. 84), in the stage direction, 
which is taken from Aholibah (Poems and Ballads), we read : 
‘on the broad border of whose garment the art of the Greek 
embroiderer has wrought the transfiguration of plants and 
animals as in a visible dream’. Swinburne has : 

The cunning of embroiderers 
That sew the pillow to the sleeve. 

And likeness of all things that live. 

and further on: 

All these had on thy garments wrought 
The shape of beasts and creeping things. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 261 

Owing to a misprint Mourey’s version reads as follows 
(p. 336): ‘la semblance de tous les Stres qui rivent’. 
Hence D’Annunzio’s ‘visible dream’.*°3 Although D’An- 
nunzio had already been introduced to the English poet’s 
work through his friend Nencioni, he was unable to make 
use of it until it became accessible to him in the French 
translation. 

27. The ‘superwoman’, of whom we caught only a 
distant glimpse in Sogno d’un Tramonto d'Autunno, steps 
into the limelight in ha Gloria^ ha Nave, and Fedra. This 
is how La Comnena, last descendant of the Byzantine 
Emperors, is described by her victims: 

‘Thou wast trailed like a bait through all the sloughs of vice; 
thou wast steeped in the foam of all corruptions; there was nothing 
vile or desperate that thou didst not know. . . . Centuries of pomp, 
of perfidy and plunder have gone to thy making, thou blood of 
traitors and usurpers, murderous ofepring. Wherever thou didst 
touch, wherever thy fiendish flesh clung, there was destined to be 
a wound without hope of healing. Thou wast damnation, torture, 
certain perdition. . . . She has longed to satiate her ancient soul 
with the crimes of vanished ages. . . .’><h 

La Comnena is the synthetic courtesan of Anglo- 
French importation. It is worthy of remark that, just as 
the Byronic hero’s origin was often said to be mysterious 
and extremely noble, so, too, was the origin of the Fatal 
Woman. And, like the Byronic superman, the super- 
woman also assumes an attitude of defiance to society. 
Well might all these Fatal Women repeat, with Swin- 
burne’s Phaedra: 

Man, what have I to do with shame or thee? 

I am not of one counsel with the gods. 

I am their kin, I have strange blood in me, 

I am not of their likeness nor of thine: 

My veins are mixed, and therefore am I mad. 

Yea therefore chafe and turn on mine own flesh, 

>> Half of a woman made with half a god. 

The adventuress Comnena is descended from the last 
Emperor of Trebizond; Basiliola, in ha Nave, comes of a 
more complicated pedigree: 

‘. . , Storm is above her head. Dost thou see her? dost thou see 



262 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

her attitude as she stands ? It seems as though she could trample 
the world with a metal heel. Surely there is something in her 
which is eternal and beyond Fate or Death, something which can* 
ynot be tamed by man. Think’st thou to have stricken her race? 
She comes of a different stock. She lived upon the mountains where 
grow medicinal herbs, in tjje palaces where panthers roam; with 
her accursed hand she gave cups of smoking juices to her guests, 
and, changing their form, shut them into the pigsty. She was 
Byblis, who ran raging after her brother; she was Myrrha, who 
issued pregnant from her father’s bed; she was Pasiphae who was 
possessed by the bull, and the adulteress of Greece who stained 
towers and ships with blood for ten years. She was Delilah, who 
cut her lover’s hair upon her knee and took his strength from him, 
Jezebel who wallowed her naked shame in the blood of the prophets, 
Hoglah who bore the brunt of a goat. She knew all incests and 
the couplings of beasts, the lusts which bleat and low, the deceits 
which corrupt the seed, the spasms against which the bones cry out. 
Everywhere she made public her beddings. She placed her couch 
in the public square and at the head of the street, along the quay 
and beneath the portico, in the tavern and the camp. Murderers 
knew her pillow, robbers her coverlet, mercenaries her lewdness. 
Whence did she come to thee? Didst thou not sniff in her hair 
odours of barbarians? The sallow Hungarian, the Moor of Numi- 
dia, the Hun of the Ister and the Sarmatian of the Tanais, have 
they not all left their traces upon her?’ 

It has been remarked^^s that there is a certain likeness 
between this invective which D’Annunzio put into the 
mouth of the monk Traba, and a passage of Baronius on 
Theodora which was transcribed to serve as a preface to 
an edition of the Historia Arcana of Procopius, to which 
D’AnnunziowentforinformationabouttheByzantinecourt; 

‘So much evil did this guilty woman do that she might be called 
a second Eve ... a new Delilah, who with fraudulent art sought 
to take Samson’s strength from him; another Herodias, thirsting 
for the blood of holy men. . . . But it is not enough to condemn 
her by such names, for she surpassed all other women in wickedness. 
Rather should Hell bestow upon her the name which fable gave 
Jto the Furies,’ &c. 

Probably D’Annunzio had seen this passage (compare 
"levar le forze a Sansone’ of Baronius with D’Annunzio’s 
‘troncb ... la forza del chiomato’), but actually it was 
Pamphila, deriving from Flaubert, and Swinburne’s 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 263 

Phaedra, who were the direct forebears of this harlot of 
universal experience. Baronius speaks of 'a second Eve*, 
^a new Delilah’, ‘another Herodias’ ; whereas the idea of 
agelong experience united in one person, of the vampire- 
^oman, is, as we have seen, essentially Romantic. D’An- 
nunzio’s effort to draw forth th«j innermost sdul of this 
type of superwoman results in the very opposite of pro- 
fundity: what he gives us is mere idle enumeration of the 
picturesque kind — ^the menagerie of Circe, the pageant of 
great female sinners — as showy as film stars — bandits, 
soldiers, murderers, the sallow Hungarian, the Moor, the 
Hun, &c . — iL scrap-heap of countries and climates, a 
kaleidoscope which can be twirled round ad infinitum and 
as one best likes. It is just as in Wilde’s Sphinx. One can 
recognize, though in a mist of metaphysical exaggeration, 
the apotheosis of ‘eternal feminine charmj^ which is cele- 
brated in the Trionfo della Morte'^^ 

‘Lo ! from the top of my forehead to the toe of my foot I am the 
music of thestars. Thetwotidesalternatein mybreast. The rush of 
rivers beats against my pulses. The melody of the world dwells in me.’L 

Men behave in her presence like the youthful lover of 
Pantea, like the desperate lovers of Swinburne: they burn 
with masochistic desire. It will suffice to quote the be- 
ginning of Gauro’s prayer, in the scene of funereal 
priapism which is enacted in the Fossa Fuia: 

‘Come, Basiliola! My breast is bared, my throat uncovered. 
Come, take the two-edged sword and strike the fatal blow. Strike 
here, between rib and rib. Plunge the blade in right up to the gold 
(I am Gauro, he who hates and loves thee), right up to the gold of 
the hilt (I am the stone-cutter ...)... strike, plunge in the whole 
blade, right up to the jewels of its handle!’ 

In this passage. D’Annunzio is merely restoring to the 
mouth of a man the words which Swinburne had placed in 
the mouth of a woman — of Phaedra — but which, from 
what we know of Swinburne’s sensual nature, sound much 
more suitable on the lips of a man : 

dff he will sky me, baring breast and throat, 

I lean toward the stroke with silent mouth 

And a great heart. Come, take thy sword and skyj 



264 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
Nay, but be swift with me; 

Set thy sword here between the girdle and breast, 

• *••••« 

P whatsoever of godlike names thou be, 

'By thy chief name I charge thee, thou strong god. 

And bid thee slay me. Strike, up to the gold. 

Up to the hand-grf^ of the hilt; strike here; 

For I am Cretan of my birth; strike now; 

For I am Theseus’ wife; stab up to the rims, 

I am born daughter to Pasiphae. 

Further on, he puts into the mouth of Marco Gratico 
the expressions of Swinburne’s Sappho (Anactorid).^^^ 
Marco Gratico, posing as the precursor of the new Italy, 
kills his brother, in imitation of Romulus : Basiliola is the 
Fury who spurs on the two rivals to the conflict. In D’An- 
nunzio the Fatal Woman offers power and empire to the 
man who is fascinated by her: so it is also in La Gloria^ in 
La Nave^ and in Fedra. (Similarly, in the Martyre de Saint 
Sebastien, the Emperor tempts the Saint with visions of 
apotheosis and empire: ‘Moi vivant, je te l^guerai — I’em- 
pire. Tu seras le maitre.’) With D’Annunzio lust is 
closely connected with the desire for power: in this also 
he resembles Flaubert in the Tentation. 

D’Annunzio, therefore, intp;isiJ 5 jes the ideajp£femkuaff 
maperiority: woman represents the active principle not 
orfyffrShe giving of pleasure, but also in the ruling of the 
world. The female is aggressive, the male vacillating.^ 
Apart from this accentuation of contrast, D’Annunzio’s 
Fedra presents nothing new when compared with Swin- 
burne’s Phaedra\ it is simply an amplified paraphrase of it, 
decorated with the usual garland of expressions gathered, 
here and there, from Poems and Ballads, So, for example, 
when D’Annunzio causes Fedra to say (Act iii), ‘Sad love 
turned to ambiguous frenzy, which tries to wrest a rag of 
pleasure from between the teeth of guilt’, he is merely 
echoing the line from the poem In the Orchard’. 

-Tluck thy red pleasure from the teeth of pain. 

28. In concluding these remarks on D’Annunzio we 
may observe that a complete documentation of all the well- 
known manifestations of sadism is to be found in his work. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 265 

from incest and sacrilege (for which, see the corresponding 
chapters of Flora's book)^^® to the apologia of crime as the 
fundamental principle of all spiritual exaltation. 

Among D'Annunzio's characters Isabella Inghirami, in 
Forse che slforse che no^ is the most obviously sadistic — ^and 
that in a novel which is corn|)letely transfused with 
sadism and so the duty of theorizing on the subject 
naturally falls to her. She reflects as follows on the painful 
joys of incest : 

‘The love that I love is that which is never tired with repeating; 
Hurt me more, hurt me still more. . . , The crime of which you 
accuse me [incest with her brother], I have committed; and I do 
not wish to excuse myself. I have committed it for love of love, 
because it is not true that the perfection of love lies in the joining 
of two persons; and this men know but dare not confess. Love, 
like all divine powers, is not truly exalted except in a trinity.”^ 
This, in me, is not a perverse doctrine, it is not a game of deceit, 
but a truth testified by martyrdom and by the most painful shedding 
of my heart's blood. Such love disdains happiness for an unknown 
but infinitely higher good, towards which the soul aspires, charmed 
continually by the purest of all kinds of pain, the pain of despair, 
whereas an ordinary pair of lovers submits to the yoke and is 
weighed down always by it, and bent by it to the dust or the mud, 
and controlled, inevitably perhaps, by the miserly ploughman. Ah, 
when at last will the lover be no longer a stupid enemy, but a 
thoughtful, wanton brother? I know, I know: you will never be 
able to understand. It is easier for you to touch the stars in flight 
than to draw near to my mystery. No word, no tear will ever avail 
to persuade you that I yielded, not to ugly vice, but to the divine 
sense of suffering which I bear within me. I have neither sought 
nor given pleasure; but in my trembling hand I have taken another 
trembling hand, to descend in search of the bottom of the abyss, 
perhaps of the subterranean temple. I have accomplished not an 
act of the flesh, but an act of sad initiation. And for you too, silent 
one who does not speak except to offend or to rave, for you too 
I represent knowledge; I do not represent happiness or misfortune, 
but stern knowledge. . . . Nothing is certain except cruelty and the 
hunger of the heart, and blood and tears, and the end of all things; 
and yet one does not know when is the time of weeping. But 
perhaps there is still some more remote pain to be discovered, , . . 
Hurt me again, my sweet love, hurt me still more until you 
resemble me; because there is nothing in which we can resemble 



266 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

each other except in cruelty, but you cannot be my equal in 

enduring it.’”^ 

The ‘subterranean temple’ which is alluded to in this 
passage is the same which is spoken of in Swinburne’s 
Dolores, in which the Black Mass is celebrated. Sade, at 
least, was never ambigi?ous, so that, in comparing D’An- 
nunzio with him, one can repeat, with a change of names 
(reading; D’Annunzio, instead of: G. Sand), the opinion 
of Baudelaire which has already been quoted — that is, 
that with D’Anmmzio satanism has gained ground, that 
the evil which is recognized as evil, and therefore as ugli- 
ness, is more easily cured than the evil which is ignorant 
of itself and seeks to cloak itself in mystical heroism and 
beauty; and that therefore, from the moral and Christian 
point of view, D’Annunzio is inferior to Sade.”'* It is true 
that Sade’s criminals also boasted of being divine (‘Nous 
sommes des dieux’), but there was no possibility of doubt 
as to their psychopathic state. 

D’Annunzio speaks of the ‘divine agony which cries out 
with the cry of a beast’, he makes Parisina exclaim ‘Shame 
is the light— -of my sin’, and he asks, in the preface to La 
Vita di Cola di Rienzoi ‘Have you ever thought that to be- 
come a brute may in a certain sense be a way of becoming 
a god?’ In Laus Vitae (lines 1901— 4) he comes very near 
to Sade’s and Swinburne’s concept of the Divinity: *0 
Zeus, greatest of Tyrants, thou art laden with crimes and 
"With outrages, thou art encumbered with spoils, thou alone 
art lofty Innocence.’^*® Crime is natural, and therefore 
innocent. 

The following is from the long apologia that precedes 
ViU che Pamore’^^^ 


"^he tragedy interprets with unusual boldness the myth of Pro- 
metheus — ^the necessity of crime which weighs upon the man who 
is intent on raising himself to the condition of a Titan; it confers 
a kind of savage and pathetic ardour both upon the reiterated efforts 


of each single will to reach the universal, and upon the nud desire 
tt> break the shell of the individual and to feel oneself as the unique 
-essence of the Universe.’ 


This is the exact description of the process illustrated in 
Swinburne’s Anactoriax sadism, ‘abolition of obstacles’, 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 267 

revolt against the Divinity, and, finally, ‘Pan-like intoxi- 
cation’ (see the passage in Anactoria: ‘Like me shall be the 
shuddering calm of night’, &c.). It has been aptly ob- 
served”7 that the Promethgan^ttitude is characteristic of 
-sadists — think of Byron, of Swinburne, and of the satanics 
in general^ — ^and the ‘Pan-likdf inspiration is no less 
characteristic. Certainly a comparison between Flaubert, 
Swinburne, and D’Annunzio would lead to the same con- 
clusion, that sensuality in their cases gets clarified into 
‘Pan-like’ feeling and is, in a way, ‘rapita fuor de’ sensi’ 
(‘^ragged free of the senses’).*^^ All the sea-poetry of 
'owinburne and the entire book of Alcione are illustrations 
of this final passage of the Tentation : 

‘Je voudrais . . . me diviser partout, etre en tout, m’dmaner avec 
les odeurs, me d^velopper comme les plantes, couler comme I’eau, 
vibrer comme le son, briller comme k lumibre, me blottir sur 
toutes les formes, penetrer chaque atome, descendre jusqu’au fond 
de la matiere, — €tre k matifere!’ 

29. Isabella Inghirami, nevertheless, does not, like 
Anactoria, go through all the stages of the process we have 
described, and she finishes in a lunatic asylum. With her 
we are no longer on the mythical plane of women such as 
Pamphila, Pantea, Fedra, or Basiliola, but are faced with a 
type of Fatal Woman which has been studied more or less 
from life — ^the type hinted at in Baudelaire’s M.ademoiselle 
Bistouri and found again in Les Diaboliques (1874) by 
Barbey d’Aurevilly (Madame de Stasseville in Le JDessous 
de cartes)^ in the Marquise de Sade by Rachilde (1886), in 
Huysmans’s Ld-bas (1891), in Le Jar din des supplices by 
Octave Mirbeau (1898-9) — ^the type which eventually 
crystallized round Salome’s grisly passion, and still con- 
tinues to find favour with novelists (it is found again, for 
,jexample, in the recent Sous le soleil de Satan, by Bernanos), 
(the hysterical woman of exasperated desire, in whose hands 
man becomes a submissive instrument. 

\ The Marquise de Sade^** talks a little like the courtesan 
in Flaubert’s Novembre: 

‘Elle alkit toujours, espdrant trouver dans un coin ineaplor^ et 
moins voulu que les autres la vision de la Rome terrible se disputant 
les sexes sous des voiles de sang. . . . Oil dtait le mile effroyable qu’il 



268 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

lui fidlait, k elle, femelle de la race des lionnes? ... II dtait ou fini 
ou pas commence. ... Du reste, quel plaisir I’assouvirait, maintenant 
que les hommes avaient peur de ses morsures? Ah! ils la faisaient 
lire avec leur dicadencey elle etait de la decadence de Rome et non 
point de celle d’aujourd’hui, elle admettait les jofttes des histrions 
dans le cirque, mais ayant,,^is prfes d’elle, sur la pourpre de leurs 
blessures, le patricien, son semblable, applaudissant avec des doigts 
solides, riant avec des dents claires et vraies.’ 

She dreams of the ‘id^le volupt^’ which the agony of 
one of these ‘mSles d^chus’ of her own period would give 
her, and she drags one of them on a pilgrimage through 
places of ill repute, ‘qu’on lui vantait comme endroits 
rdcdant de fortes horreurs, capables, en ^branlant ses 
nerfs, d’^tancher sa soif de meurtre’. 

lAjiidnth&iLd-bas) initiates Durtal into the Black Mass, 
and then, in her lust for sacrilege, gives herself to him in 
the ‘abominable couche’ of an ‘ignoble bouge’ ; Clara {Le 
Jardin des supplices) initiates her lover into the ghastly 
spectacle of a Chinese prison, as a prelude to sleeping with 
him in a brothel (‘Et comme je vous aimerai mieux ce 
soir . . both, like Isabella Inghirami, ‘took in their 
trembling hand another trembling hand, to descend in 
search of the bottom of the abyss, or perhaps of the sub- 
terranean temple’. In the Trionfo della Morte the spectacle 
of the physical horrors of the pilgrimage to Casalbordino 
serves the same purpose as the visit to the Chinese prison 
in Mirbeau’s novel.^22 

Clara undertakes her ‘sad initiation’ with almost the 
same words as Isabella: 

‘Elle dit d’une voix plus basse, presque rauque: — Je t’apprendrai 
des choses terribles — des choses divines . . . tu sauras enfin ce que 
c’est que I’amour! Je te promets que tu descendras, avec moi, tout 
au fond du mystbre de I’amour . . . et de la mort !. . . L’amour est une 
chose grave, triste et profonde. . . . L’ Amour et la Mort, c’est la 
mbme chose. . . . Voyons, dans I’acte d’amour, n’as-tu done jamais 
songb, par exemple, k commettre un beau crime? C’est-k-dire k 
blever ton individu au-dessus de tous les prbjugds sociaux et de 
toutes les lois, au-dessus de tout, enfin ?’»*3 

Both in Parse che si and in Le Jardin des supplices the 
jman feels horror for the woman and at the same time an 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 269 

attraction which is part of his sense of horror; and when, 
in exasperation, he showers abuse upon her, she abandons 
herself to him with a delight which is all the greater pre- 
cisely because of his insults. The cruel coition-scene in 
D’Annunzio’s noveh24 is analogous to that of Mirbeau,^*® 
when, hearing her lover say to he# : 

‘J’ai envie de vous tuer, ddmon! . . . je devrais vous tuer, et 
vous jeter ensuite au chamier, charogne! — 

‘Clara n’eut pas un mouvement de recul, pas mSme un mouve- 
ment des paupiferes. . . . EUeavan 9 a sa gorge, offrit sa poitrine. . . . Son 
visage s’illumina d’une joie inconnue et resplendissante. . . . Simple- 
ment, lentement, avec une douceur infinie, elle dit: — Eh bien ! . . . 
tue-moi, chdri. . . . J’aimerais ^re tu^e par toi, cher petit cceur! . . 

The similarity between the passions in the two novels 
is repeated in the landscape: the inferno-like scenery of 
Volterra, the gloomy desert of ashes, lit by a sun which 
bleeds *as though through the lips of an immense wound’, 
corresponds to the scene of infinite desolation round the 
Chinese prison, a naked land which is the colour of dried 
blood-it^^ D’Annunzio’s novel ends with Isabella’s mad- 
ness, Mirbeau’s with Clara’s frightful attack of hysteria.* 
30. There was a tendency, towards the end of the 
century, to substitute a hospital background for the back- 
ground of Oriental lust, cruelty, and magnificence against 
which the superwomen of Gautier had been painted. The 
following poem by Ivan Gilkin (from the volume entitled 
La Nuity 1897) presents a sort of non plus ultra of the 
Fatal Woman type. His mannerisms are typical of the 
tendency of the whole period. 

Anwwr d'HSpital 

0 Reine des Douleurs, qui rayonnes de sang 
Comme un rubis royal jette une flamme rouge, 

Le forceps, qui t’a mise au monde dans un bouge, 

D’un signe obscene doit t’avoir marquee au flanc. 

Dans ton ceil, ob voyage un reflet satanique, 

Le meurtre se tapit sous un velours de feu, 

Ainsi qu’au fond d’un del amoureusement bleu 
Dans les vents parfumds flotte un mal ironique. 



270 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
Tu t’es feite, 6 ma soeur, gardienne k Thopital, 

Pour mieux repattre tes regards d’oiseau de proie 
Du spectacle teceurant, cruel et plein de joie 
De la chair qui se fend sous le couteau brutal. 

Dans le grouillis rougeitre et gluant des visceres, 

Des muscles d&ouflls, des tendons mis k nu, 

Des nerfe, oh vibre encore un vouloir inconnu, 

Des glandes qu’on incise et des Basques arteres, 

Tu plonges tes deux bras polis, avidement, 

Tandis qu’erre un divin sourire sur tes levres, 

Et que sur son chevet, oh bondissent les fievres, 

Le moribond t’appelle et parle doucement. 

Car ton visage, pur comme un marbre, te donne, 
Sous ta coifFe de toile et ton noir chaperon, 

0 vierge au bistouri, vierge au coeur de Huron, 

Le resplendissement serein d^une Madone. 

Sur ton sein, les stylets, les pinces, les ciseaux, 

La spatule, la scie Equivoque et les sondes. 

Bijoux terrifiants et breloques immondes, 

Comme un bouquet d’acier 6toilent leurs faisceaux. 

Tes doigts fins, k tremper dans les pus et les plaies, 
En ont pris le tranchant afiile des scalpels; 

Et Todeur de ton corps suave a des rappels 
De putrefactions ranees, dont tu t’6gaies. 

Car ton ^me de monstre est folle des gattes 
Cocasses de la couche oh le mourant se cabre 
Dans les convulsions de la danse macabre, 

Et la Mort a pour toi d’hilarantes beaut&, 

Qui nous expliquera ta funebre hysterie, 

Pauvre femme, produit de ce siecle empest^? 

On dit que ton baiser trouble la volont^ 

Et communique aux os une lente carie. 

Mais de ton m^e coeur monte un puissant amour. 
Comme un vin orgueilleux, plein de rouges prestiges, 
Sa riche odeur de sang evoque les vertiges 
Et ronge les cerveaux mieux qu’un bee de vautour. 

Et e’est pourquoi, vaincu par la coquetterie 
De ta forme divine et de tes noirs instincts, 

En toi j ’adore, enfant des sinistres Destins, 

L’Horreur fascinatrice et la Bizarrerie* 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 271 

‘L’Horreur fascinatrice* — ^the beauty of the Medusa. 
‘Un divin sourire sur tes l^vres’ — ^the Gioconda smile. 
‘Reine des douleurs’ — ^Dolores. vierge au bistouri’ — 

Mademoiselle Bistouri. The final metamorphosis both of 
the Fatal Man and of the Fatal Woman can be seen in 
Baudelaire’s Metamorphoses du vahpire. 

Even here there remains the possibility of hxunoristic 
evasion; and this is indicated by Laforgue in the Miracle 
des roses (1887) Moralites legendaires), in which the 
consumptive woman, haunted by the idea of blood (like 
the heroine of the Sogno (dun Mattino di Primaverd), casts 
the evil eye on all who approach her, so that there springs 
up in her via cruets a crop of more or less grotesque 
suicides. 

There is unintentional humour, on the other hand, in 
the poem by R. Le Gallienne (in English Poems, 1892) 
entitled Beauty Accursed, in which the Fatal Woman 
attracts irresistibly towards herself not only men, but even 
‘strange creatures’, even cows, toads, and snails ! 

^ Strange creatures leer at me with uncouth love. 

And from the grass reach upward to my breast. 

And to my mouth lean from the boughs above. 

The sleepy kine move round me in desire 
And press their oozy lips upon my hair. 

Toads kiss my feet and creatures of the mire, 

The snails will leave their shells to watch me there. 

But all this worship, what is it to me? 

I smite the ox and crush the toad in death: 

I only know I am so very feir. 

And that the world was made to give me breith. 

I only wait the hour when God shall rise 
Up from the star where he so long hath sat. 

And bow before the wonder of my eyes 
And set me there — I am so feir as that. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER IV 


* Cf. M. Rudwin, T^e Devil in Legend and Literature (Chicago-London, 
The Open Court Publishing Co., 1931), chap, ix, ‘The Legend of Lilith’, 
pp. 1 01-2: 

‘The fatal power of Lilith is not limited to new-born infants. She offers a 
greater danger to men, particularly in their youth. In Eastern tradition, Lilith, as 
princess of the succubi, is primarily a seductress of men. “Lilith”, says Langdon 
(Stephen H. Langdon, Tammuz and hhtar^ Oxford University Press, 1914, 
p. 74), “is the Semitic name for the beautiful and licentious unmarried harlot 
fwho seduces men in streets and fields”.’ 

2 From The Oresteia of Aeschylus^ translated by R. C. Trevelyan (The 
University Press of Liverpool, 1922), p. 98. 

3 Foluptiy ed. 1834, voL i, pp. 209-10. 

+ Le Diahle amoureux appeared in an English translation in 1791. 
Railo (op. cit., p. 261) quotes a passage from Cazotte in which Biondetta’s 
habit ‘discovered part of her bosom, and the moonbeams darting full upon 
it, enabled me to observe its dazzling whiteness’, and compares it with the 
following from Lewis: ‘The moonbeams darting full upon it [Matilda’s 
bosom] enabled the monk to observe its dazzling whiteness’. See also other 
anticipations of Matilda quoted by Railo, ibid.* 

5 Mimoires d^outre-tombe^ ed. 1849, vol. iii, p. 229. In another place 
he remarks that Lewis’s Monk and Godwin’s Caleb Williams would 
survive. 

6 Croce rightly remarks in his essay on Kleist (published first in Critica^ 
vol. xviii, no. 2 (March 1920), p. 71, later reprinted in the volume Foesia 
e non foe$ia\ 

‘Penthesilea . . . filled with the sole desire to subdue and bind to herself Achilles 
whom she loves, when she sees that she does not succeed in subduing him, 
murders him in her raging madness and lacerates with dagger and tooth the 
corpse of the man she both hates and loves. Kleist did not write this, as might 
have been the case with other authors saturated with literature, out of love of 
the lecherous, the cruel, and the horrible, for the original source of his inspiration 
sprang from his vague yearning after an extremely high ideal and from his 
despair at not having been able to achieve it. But the theme remains symbolical 
and almost allegorical, and has a meaning beyond the gross sensual cloak of 
its outward rendering, in which a process of hysterical fury is developed.* 
Even if it is possible to trace signs of sadism in the work of Kleist (e.g. in 
Erdbeben in Chile^ 1808) his case remains isolated and without following 
in German literature. 

7 Le Origini di ^Salammb^, op. cit., p. 69. See also Benedetto’s remarks 
(pp. 56 et seq.) on the ‘fatal’ character of SalammbS and on her identifica- 
tion with Flaubert’s type of Oriental woman (Cleopatra). 

® In Zola’s Faute de VAbbi Moure t^ also, temptation comes after the 
young priest’s serious illness. 



273 


LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 

9 Cf. Mailarme, Brtse marinei 

La chair est triste, h^Ias! et j’ai lu tous les Hvres. 

Fuir! 1^-bas fuirl je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres 
D etre parmi i’^cume inconnue et les cieux! 

Je partirai! Steamer balan^ant ta mature 
L^ve i’ancre pour une exotique nature! 

Un Ennui, d^ole par les cruels e^oirs, 

Croit encor k Tadieu supreme des mouchoirs! 

*0 The physical type of Jacques Ferrand also corresponds to that of 
Borel’s Public Prosecutor. He has a ‘masque fauve et terreux, sa figure plate 
comme une tete de mort; son nez camus et punais et ses levres si minces, 
si imperceptibles, que sa bouche semblait incisee dans sa face^ 

See the note in Portrahs contemporains^ vol. iii, pp. 1 15-17. 

Pierre Louys, La Femme et le pantin (1898), pp. 57-8: 

‘Si vous n’avez pas encore 6prouv^ jusqu’h Fextr^me la folie qu elle peut engen- 
drer et maintenir dans un cceur humain, n’approchez pas cette femme, fuyez-la 
comme la mort. . . 

Don Mateo makes the acquaintance of Concha in circumstances similar 
to those of Carmen (a women^s quarrel); both the women are cigar-makers; 
both prostitute themselves in act or in appearance to the English {Carmen^ 
ed. Calmann-L^vy, 1883, p. 76; La Femme et le pantin^ pp. 185 et seq.). 

Also, the ‘inventions cruelles’ used by Conchita in order to excite the 
man without yielding henelf are the same as those of Cecily {La Femme et 
le pantin^ pp. 149-50, 213 et seq.); Conchita also (p. 228) defends herself 
with a dagger, but Don Mateo strikes her and she exclaims: *Que tu m’as 
bien battue, mon cceur ! Que c’dtait doux! Que c’etait bon ! . . • Pardon 
pour tout ce que je t’ai fait V — ^and then she tells lies in order to get beaten 
again. 

‘Quand je sens ta force, je t’aime, je t’aime; tu ne peux pas savoir comme je suis 
heureuse de pleurer k cause de toi’ — ‘Mateo, tu me battras encore ? Promets-le 
moi: tu me battras bien I Tu me tuerasl Dis-moi que tu me tuerasl* ‘Ne 
croyez pas, cependant, que cette smguli^ie predilection ffit la base de son caractere. 
Non; si elle avait le besoin du chStiment, eUe avait aussi la passion de la faute. Elle 
faisait mal, non pour le plaisir de pecher, mais pour la joie de faire mal k quel- 
qu*un. Son idle dans la vie se bornait la; semer la souffrance et la regarder 
croltre’. 

Conchita takes other lovers simply in order to stimulate Mateo’s passion. 
Apropos of Louys’ Aphrodite (1896) Remy de Gourmont wrote {JLe 
Livre des masques^ vol. i, pp. 185-6): 

‘Mais aussi qu’une telle litterature est fallacieuse! Toutes ces femmes, toutes 
ces chairs, tous ces cris, toute cette luxure si animale et si vaine, et si cruelle! 
Les femelles mordillent les cervelets et mangent les cerveiles; la pens^e fuit 
^jaculee; I’dme des femmes coule comme par une plaie; et toutes ces copulations 
n’engendrent que le n6ant, le d^gofit et la mort. 

M. Pierre Louys a bien senti que ce livre de chair aboutissait logiquement 
k la mort; Aphrodite se cl6t par une sc^ne de mort, par des funerailles. 

C’est la fin ^AtaJa (Chateaubriand plane invisible sur toute notre littfeture) , . . 

T 



274 the romantic AGONY 

k rid^ de la mort vient se joindre Tid^ de la beautej et les deux images, enlac^es 
comme deux courtisanes, tombent leutement dans la nuit*. 

« See the chapter ‘Swinburne and “le vice anglais” ' 

See also at the end of this chapter, § 29. 

*5 Op. cit., p. 8.* 

‘La Mort de Venise’, iij Jmcri et Doiori sacrum^ P* ^ 5 * 

In the interlude Love intended for the Ballad of the Dark Ladie^ 
1799), are the lines: 

There came and looked him in the face 

An angel beautiful and bright; 

And that he knew it was a Fiend, 

This miserable Knight! 

And that she nursed him in a cave; 

And how his madness went away. 

When on the yellow forest-leaves 
A dying man he lay. 

Coleridge’s poem, with the title Introduction to the Tale of the Dark 
LadiCf appeared in the Morning Post of Dec, 21st, 1799. It is obvious that 
Keats took his inspiration from this for his Belle Dame sans merci (1819). 
It may be noted that Coleridge’s poem began thus: 

O leave the Lily on its stem; 

O leave the Rose upon the spray. . . . 

^which seems to have suggested to Keats the following: 

I see a lilly on thy brow 

And on thy cheek a fading rose. . . • 

On the other hand Keats’s image: ‘I saw pale kings, and princes too . . .’ 
is a reminiscence of Canto V of the Inferno. See J. Middleton Murry, 
J Keats and Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, 1925), p. 124. See also 
Murry’s remarks on the subject of the Belle Dame as a syn*bolic trans- 
ference of Keats’s betrothed, Fanny Brawne; and also on Keats’s concep- 
tion of love as pain. Pleasure and Heath are intertwined in Keats’s poems. 
The Eve of St. Jgnes^ Lamia^ Isabella. With regard to a young Anglo- 
Indian girl whom he met at the house of some friends, Keats wrote: 

‘She is not a Cleopatra, but she k at least a Charmian. She has a rich eastern 
look. . . . When she comes into a room she makes an impression the same as the 
' Beauty of a Leopardess. ... 1 should like her to ruin me. . . 

(quoted from Murry, pp. loo-i). 

fanus Weathercock^ The Life of Thomas Griffiths Wainevoright^ 
^iyg4^i84j, London, Nelson, 1938, p. 78. 

« A similar nostalgia for an ancient world in which energy could be 
treely expressed is to be found in S^ndhaJ/^^o, in his fragmentary Filosofia 
Nova (cf, appendix to the Joumai oF^endhal, ed. of (Euvres completes^ 
Paris, Champion, vol. ii, 1932) also enunciates a maxim a la Marquis de 
Sade: ‘Tons les grands hommes grecs dtaient libertins; cette passion dans 
un homme indique I’dnergie, qu^td sine qua non genius.’ But Stendhal 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 275 

looked towards the past, and wrote the Chrtmiptes italiennes, because 
/£e saw examples of energy there. He was indifferent to curiosities of 
cultural surroundings, and cannot therefore be called a true and proper 
exoticist. The true and proper exotidst hankers after a country of his own 
imagining, his Orient, his Rome, &c., partake of the nature of a mirage 
(the remark is Brie’s, op. dt. p, lo-i i), whereas Stendhal was satisfied with 
the present when he found in it the qualiti^ which he valued in life. His 
{ ideal moral world was the Renaissance — ^but among the Italians of his 
own time he found sufiident ‘virtu’ (in the Machiavellian sense) to make 
him decide to live among them and to call himself Milanese. Like Byron, 
Stendhal gave more attention to the soul of a period or a country than to 
its exterior aspect, whereas the real exotidst gives primary importance to 
pageantry, and is contemplative rather than active. If one is going to give 
the name of exoticism to the nostalgia of Byron and Stendhal, then Machia- 
velli’s complaint of the decline of the pagan world must also be called 
exoticism.* 

Une Nuit de Cidopdtre, chap. vi. 

Diodorus Siculus, ii, 13, 4. 

Villon, Ballade des dames du temps jadis, 

23 p. 244. 

^ Cf. chap, iii, note 85. 

^5 See chap, i, note 39. 

Cleopatra frequently inspired the Romantic poets: Victor Hugo (Z/;57- 
Zizimi) ; Louis Bouilhet in the third canto of the poem Mel<enis{i% 51); 

C16op&tre! encore toil voluptueux g^niel 
Type eternel de grtce et de virility ! 

Non, non, tu n’aimais pas, c’est une calomnie 
Que jettera sur toi la m4diocrite. 

Sous le bois odorant qui couvre ta momie. 

Ton coeur n’est pas plus firoid qu’au temps de ta beaut^ ! 

Assise au bord du Nil, 6 courtisane blonde, 

Tu tendais aux vainqueurs ton filet captieux; 

Tu les endormis tons d’une ivresse profonde, 

Et tu les vis tomber, tes amants glorieuxl 

Sans qu’ils aient eu jamais, en echange du monde, 

Une larme d’amour echappfe k tes yeux! 

Thdodore de Banville {Les Princesses^ 1 874, xi) shows Cleopatra sleeping 
naked in the moonlight: 

Et tandis qu’eUe dort, delices et bourreau 
Du monde, un dieu de jaspe k t$te de taureau 
Se penche, et voit son sein oh la clarte se pose. 

Sur ce sein, tons les feux dans son sein recel^ 

£tincellent, montrant leur braise ardente et rose, 

Et ridole de jaspe en a les yeux brul&. 

In two sonnets by Albert Samain (in the volume An Jardin de rinfante\ 



276 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the queen exhibits herself naked on the terrace of her palace in order to 
intoxicate the whole world with her beauty: 

EUe veut, et ses yeux fauves dardent I’^clair, 

Que le monde ait, ce soir, le parfum de sa chair. . . . 

6 sombre fleur du sexe Sparse en fair nocturne I 

Et le Sphynx, imnjobile aux sables de Tennui, 

Sent un feu pen6trer son granit taciturne 
Et le desert immense a remu6 sous lui. 

Cf. Macbethy Act v, sc. i, line 57. 

28 The idea of the double personality of the priest goes back to Lewis’s 
Monk, Cf. Railo, op. cit., pp. 183 et seq. and 306-7. 

29 A typical illustration of this Romantic fantasy is given by Heine in 
Tlorentinische Nachte’ {Salon, in, 1837), where Maximilian professes his 
love for representations of women in sculpture (especially Michaelangelo’s 
Nigit) and in paintings, and also for women already dead. He falls in love 
in this way with the litde Very, seven years after she is dead; and he tells 
of his passion for Mademoiselle Laurence, who was called ‘das Totenkind’ 
because of the strange circumstances of her birth (her mother had been 
buried; robbers had violated the tomb and found her in the pains of child- 
birth, so had taken the baby and re-buried the mother): ‘She was so slim, 
so young and lovely — ^this lily bom of the tomb, this daughter of death, this 
ghost with the face of an angel and the body of a bayadere,^ 

Balzac’s Jane la Ptle was born in similar circumstances. Her adoptive 
father tells the story (ed. Brussels, M 61 ine, 1836, vol. i, p. 262): 

*On donnait k Londres un de mes operas lorsque la salle de Drury-Lane brOla. 
Mistdss Jenny Duls, danseuse c41^bie, ^prouva une telle frayeur k I’aspect de 
rincendie, qu’elle mourut dans mes bras. EUe 6tait grosse; ne trouvant pas de 
chirurgien au miUeu du tumulte, j’eus le courage de pratiquer TalFreuse operation 
qui sauva cette chhre enfant. Far un ph^nom^ne inexplicable, la p^leur de la m&re 
avail pass6 sur le visage de la fiUe, et c’est pour cela que vous m*entendez souvent 
la nommer Chlora ou Chlore, ce nom doit lui rappeler sans cesse qu’eUe a et6 
conquise sur la mort.* 

The exquisite Jane is of ‘une ptleur effirayante, et son visage ressemblait 
exactement It celui d’une statue’ (p. 237). Salviati says of her: ‘Voila 
comme je me reprdsente le vampire dont nous a parl6 ce jeune Anglais k 
Coppet’ (p. 236). The lips of the fatal Jane were like ‘deux branches de 
coraii’. It is easy to see the affinity between Balzac’s conception and that 
of his friend Heine. 

30 In his famous description of the Monna Lisa, where the poetical 
fantasy of which we are speaking finds its culminating point. Pater says: 

>^‘Like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets 
of the grave.’ 

33 Similar themes recur in other poems by Gautier: £tudes de mains, ii, 
Lacenaire\ Symphonie en blanc majeur\ Le QMteau du soutentr\ Ccerutei 
oculu See Ae study by B. Fehr in Arckw fur das Studium der neueren 
Sptachenund Literaturen, vol. cxxxv, pp. 80-102: ‘Walter Paters Beschrei- 
bung der Mona Lisa und Theophile Gautiers romantischer Orientalismus’. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 277 

Among the first indications of the theme of the synthetic Fatal Woman 
must be mentioned a sonnet by Ernest Prarond to his friend Baudelaire 
(Oct. 5th, 1852), in which, recounting an adventure of the latter with 
‘une femme belle, et de naissance juive’, he goes on: 

EUe vous fit toucher, sur sa chair toute vive, 

Du vice et de Famour les secrets monstrueux. 

EUe e<it enivr^ Loth au fond d*une caveme, 

Tenu comme Judith le sabre d’Holopherne, 

Et frapp 4 du marteau le front de Sisara. 

Brie (op. cit., p. 77, note) remarks that this poem comes very near to 
Pater. But it must be noticed that Prarond uses the conditional (she wuli 
kave^\ so that there is no question of re-incarnation, which makes all the 
difference. 

32 (Euvres de jeunesse, vol. ii, pp. 196 et seq. 

33 U Education sentimentale^ 1845 version. (E. de jeun.^ vol. iii, pp. 

1 60-1. 

34 Cf. Gautier, La Morte amoureusei 

‘Avoir Clarimonde, c*6tait avoir vingt maitresses, c*^tait avoir toutes les femmes, 
tant elle 6tait mobile, changeante et dissemblable d’eUe-m^me; un vrai camel^on ! 
EUe vous faisait commettre avec elle Tinfid^Ut^ que vous eussiez commise avec 
d’autres, en prenant compUtement le caract^re, TaUure et le genre de beaut6 de 
la femme qui paraissait vous plaire*.* 

./ 35 H. Nicolson, Swinburne (London, Macmillan, 1926; ‘English Men 
of Letters’). 

^36 'Y, Earle Welby, A Study of Swinburne (London, Faber & Gwyer, 
1926). 

37 G. Lafourcade, La Jeunesse de Swinburne {1837-186'^) (Paris, Les 
BeUes Lettres, 1928, 2 vols.; Publications de la Faculte des Lettres de 
I’Universite de Strasbourg). See also: Lafourcade, Swinburne^ a literary ^ 
biography (London, BeU, 1932). (The former work is quoted here as: 
Lafourcade; the latter as: I^ourcade, Swinburne 

3 ® Lafourcade, Swinburne^ p. 258. 

39 Vol. i, p, 265, note 109. It might perhaps also be proved that the 
cessation of Swinburne’s erotic inspiration dates from the time that he 
started to frequent those itablissements spiciauXy which according to La- 
/ourcade, would be from 1 867 onwards. Cf. also Lafourcade, Swinburne^ 
p. 196: ‘On July 28th,'T868, (he) wrote from London in the foUowing 
terms: ‘My life has been enlivened of late by a fair friend who keeps a 
maison de supplices k la Rodin — There is occasional balm in Gilead.’ 
His libido i having found a real outlet, would cease to evoke fantasies of 
lechery. This, in fact would constitute a confirmation of the view that the 
erotic details in Foems and Ballads^ First Series *were mainly the fruits of 
his fertile imagination and not memories of actual experiences’ (Hardman 
Papers, S. M. Ellis’ note, p. 327). 

40 See the chapter ‘Swinburne and “le vice anglais” On the subject 
of erotic flageUation, which seems to have been traditionaUy held in honour 



278 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

among the English, see Dr. E. Diihren, Das Gescklecktskben in England^ 
vol. ii (Berlin, Lilienthal, 1903), chap, vi, ‘Die Flagellomanie’', which con- 
tains very full documentation. 

Lafourcade, vol. i, pp. 178-9; Swinburne^ pp. 92 et seq. The Hardman 
Papers^ ed. and annotated by S. M. Ellis (London, Constable, 1930), p. 91, 
apropos of the mode of flogging women in Jamaica: 'The whipping of 
women would have gratified'^the senses of Lord Houghton (Monckton 
Milnes) and would probably have culminated in his asking to be similarly 
castigated himselff 

+2 Lafourcade, vol. ii, pp. 1 14-20. 

-♦3 Ibid., pp. 1 28-34. It is perhaps a mere coincidence that the whipped 
page in Laugh and Lie down should be called Frank, like the young man 
who is the subject of one of the epigrams of Sir John Davies which were 
printed together with Marlowe’s version of Ovid’s elegies: 

When Francus comes to solace with his whore 
He sends for rods, and strips himself stark naked, etc. 

^ Lafourcade, vol. ii, pp. 85-90. Among the sources of this work La- 
fourcade cites Dumas’s Les Grands Crimes de PHistoire.* 


^5 Lafourcade, vol. ii, pp. 235-246. 

^ Quoted by Lafourcade, vol. ii, pp. 89-90.* 

Whippingham Papers, See Lafourcade, vol. ii, p. 132. The complete 
passage is: ‘One of the great charms of birching lies in the sentiment that 
.the floggee is the powerless victim of the furious rage of a beautiful woman.’ 
•^Cf, the well-known passage in the Confessions of Rousseau, quoted in 
psychopathological treatises as an illustration of masochism: ‘fitre aux 
genoux d’une maitresse imp^rieuse, obeir k seS ordres, avoir des pardons 
k lui demander, ^taient pour moi de tr^s douces jouissances.’ 

^ Lafourcade, vol. ii, pp. 258-61. 

+9 Op. cit., vol. ii, p. 282. 

50 Certain conformities of thought between Blake and Sade, between 
Dostoievsky and Nietzsche and Blake, derive from the fact that these 
writers were all, in greater or lesser degree, sadists. This accounts for the 
discovery of a twin mind — of Swinburne in Sade, of D’Annunzio in 
Swinburne and Nietzsche, of Gide in Nietzsche, Dostoievsky and Blake, 
u 51 William Blake^ a Critical Essay (London, Hotten, 1868), p. 158 
note.* 


52 Op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 354 et seq. Cf. the passages of Sade quoted in 
chap. iii. 

53 Swinburne’s attitude towards the works of Sade is a double one; on 
the one hand, he finds in the Divine Marquis a source of ifiacabre burlesque, 
apt to ipaterle bourgeois \ on the other, ‘a valuable study to rational curio-;>j> 
sity’. See Lafourcade, vol. i, pp. 264-5. Swinburne’s attitude towards the 
‘fren^tique’ school of French literature is similar. In his essays on the 
imaginary Ernest Clouet and F^licien Cossu (1861 and 1862), which were 
destined to scandalize the readers of the respectable Spectator^ Swinburne 
uses for humorous purposes the macabre obscenities of French ‘bas roman- 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 279 

tisme^ whichi, however, he also took seriously, as is shown by Poems and 
Ballads^ First Series. The same may be said of him as of Janin, of Toulet, 
and of all the writers who treat certain gruesome subjects humorously — 
humoristic treatment being an evasion which presupposes attraction to the 
subject. 

54 Letter of August 1865, quoted by Lafourcade, voL ii, p. 401. Cf* 

note 57 of chap. ii. See Lifourcade, especWly vol. ii, pp. 401-3, for the 
influence of Sade’s theories on the of Atalanta. A source of 

Chorus IV which seems to have escaped the notice of the French critic is 
the speech of Almani, in Justine (vol. iii, pp. 63-4), on the cruel^^f 

^Nature, a speech which makes use of the same arguments which were 
afterwards made use of by Leopardi in Diaiogo della Natura e di un Islan- 
dese. 

5 5 A poem which D’Annunzio used for the second act of the Crociata 
degli Innocenti. 

5 ^ A first version of The Leper^ entitled The Figil, lays particular stress 
on the erotic attraction of the dead woman’s naked feet. It is well known 
that this form of fetishism is dosely connected with sadism. Baudelaire, 
when he frightened the blonde woman with his sadistic fantasies (S^ch^- 
Bertaut, op. cit., p. 126; Cr^pet, p. 65), concluded: ‘Alors je me mettrais k 
genouz et je baiserais vos pieds nus.’ And in the sadistic vision of the fair 
penitent in the 1849 version of Flaubert’s Tentation (p. 221 in the edition 
of the CEuvres complhes)\ 

‘Elle essaie, elle s’enferme, elle defait sa chaussure au noeud vermeil qui passe 
entre son pouce et se rattache k la jambej elle la quitte, elle ne la portera plus; 
ce pied, dont on polissait le talon avec la lave des volcans, dont on teignait les 
ongles avec le jus des coquillages et que les hommes en joie appuyaient centre 
leurs l^vres . . . il trebuchera sur les cailloux, il s’enfoncera jusqu*k la cheville 
dans I’urine des mulcts, il se ddehirera au tranchant des Eclats de marbre, et les 
08 passeront a travers la peau qui sera comme des guenilles. . . .* 

Psychopathoiogists quote a passage from Barry’s Ennemi des lois (ed. 1 893, 
p. 49) where he makes the Russian ‘petite princesse’ say: 

‘Quand j’avais douze ans . . . j’aimais, sitdt seule dans la campagne, a 6ter mes 
chaussures et k enfoncer mes pieds nus dans la boue chaude. J’y passais des 
heures, et cela me donnait dans tout le corps un frisson de plaisir*. 

57 Vol. ii, p, 312. 

5 ® For its particular type of sensuality, this passage may be compared with 
Justine^ vol, iv, pp. 270-1. 

59 Conmvioy vol. viiii, p. 654. Maupassant, in his introduction to the 
translation by G. Mourey of the Pohmes et Ballades de Swinburne (Paris, 
Savine, 1891), used by D’Annunzio, says (p. xiv): 

‘Swinburne a compris et exprime cela [ces appels irr&istibles et tourmentants 
de la volupt^ insaisissable] comme personne avant lui, et peut-Stre comme 
personne ne le fera plus, car ils ont disparu du monde contemporain, ces poktes 
dements 6pris d'lnaccessibles jouissances.’* 

To which dramas D’Annunzio is especially referring may be seen from a 



28 o the romantic AGONY 

passage in the Famtle del Magiio (published in the Corriere della Sera of 
March 17 th, 1912): 

‘Something similar to what I may call “carnality of thought’* is to be found in 
certain tragic poets who were predecessors of Shakespeare, such as Christopher 
Marlowe, John Webster, John Ford/ 

Since D^Annunzio is here speaking of himself, the identification of ‘car- 
nality of thought* with ‘criminal sensuality* is a logical consequence of a 
comparison of the two passages. If one wished to be pedantic, one might 
point out to D*Annunzio that neither Webster nor Ford were ‘prede- 
cessors’ of Shakespeare. Very likely D’Annunzio was misled by Taine’s 
Histoire de la httirature anglaise^ Book II, chap, iii, i : 

*Lorsqu*une civilisation nouveile am^ne un art nouveau k la lumifere, il y a dix 
hommes de talent qui expriment k demi I’id^ publique autour d’un ou deux 
hommes de genie qui Texpriment tout k fait: . . . Ford, Marlowe, Massinger, 
Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher autour de Shakespeare. . . 

In Chap, ii Taine had dealt with these lesser Elizabethan dramatists, 
before dealing with Shakespeare in Chap. iv. 

60 Vol. ii, pp. 434-5. 

Apropos of this see the postscript to a letter of 1865 to Ch. Aug. 
Howell (ed. Gosse and Wise, London, 1918, letter xiv): 

‘Since writing the above I have added ten verses to Dolores — trls mfdmes et iris 
hien toumls. “Oh 1 Monsieur, peut-on prendre du plaisir k de telles horreurs ?*’ * 

Lafourcade, vol. i, p. 204. 

^3 Hamlet, Act m, Sc, i, line 130. 

On Adah Menken see Hardman Papers, pp. 322 et seq.* That her 
ways were ^culated to attract Swinburne can be judged by the following 
passage in yPrancis Burnand’s Records and Reminiscences, quoted on pp. 
324-5 of the Hardman Papers, Burnand found her in his box terrorizing 
a man who had slighted her in America: 

‘She had closed the door with a bang, and was standing in front of it barring 

the way with a shining dagger in her hand Her eyes flashed more brilliantly 

than her dagger, they gleamed murderously. . . . Losing all control of herself 
she raised her dagger, took one step back, in order to spring forward, like an 
angry tigress, &c ’ 

She appeps to have been a passionate woman, ‘somewhat careless and 
prodigal, it is true, but ever unselfish*— to use the words of a contemporary 
(H. B. Farnie). See also Lafourcade, Szoindurne, pp. 188—93.* 

^3 Lit. trans.: 

‘A stern virago is she, stem and public tests does she require of danger and 
of love: the roses of her garland grow in the midst of blood.* 

^ See Swinhurnds^ Hyperion and Other Poems, with an Essay on Swin- 
burne and K^ts, Th^e compl^mentaire presentee k la Faculte des Lettres 
de rUniversite de Strasbourg par G. Lafourcade (London, Faber & 
Gwyer, 1928). 

Cf. Gautier, Le Roi Candaule (p. 4x8): 

‘Nyssia denoua ses cheveux . , . Gygks . . . crut . . . voir . . . leurs boucles 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 281 

s’allonger avec des ondulations viperines comme la chevelure des Gorgones 
et des M6duses*. 

See also the passage from Laus Veneris quoted above, p. 229. 

^ The allusion here is probably to the cruelty of the Chinese Emperor 
Ki^ and his wife, recorded in Justine^ vol. iv, p. 198. 

See E. Welby, op. cit., pp. 222-3; and The Victorian Romantics^ 
by the same author (London, Howe, i929),4>. 76. 

70 Une Nuit de CUopdtre, p. 3 2 5 . 

71 The Gioconda smile had already for some time been puzzling people’s 
brains.* See, for example, the Journal of the Goncourts (vol. i, p. 3 17)» 
dated March nth, i860: 

‘Femme au delicat profil, au joli petit nez droit, k la bouche d*une d^coupure 
si spirituelle, k la coiffure de bacchante donnant aujourd*hui a sa physionomie 
une gr^ce mutine et affol^, femme aux yeux etranges qui semblent rire, quand 
sa parole est serieuse. Toutes les femmes sont des enigmes, mais celie-ci est la 
plus indechiffrable de toutes. Elle ressemble a son regard qui n’est jamais en 
place, et dans lequel passent, brouill^ en une seconde, les regards divers de la 
femme. Tout est incomprehensible chez cette creature qui peut-etre ne se com- 
prend gufere elle-meme; Tobservation ne peut y prendre pied et y glisse comme 
sur le terrain du caprice. Son ime, son humeur, le battement de son coeur a 
quelque chose de precipite et de fuyant, comme le pouls de la Folie. On croirait 
voir en elle une Violante, une de ces courtisanes du xvie sifecle, un de ces etres 
instinctifs et der^l^ qui portent comme un masque d^enchantement, k sourtre 
plein de nuit de la Joconde, 

This last expression occurs again in La Faustin, where the smile of Bonne- 
Ame, the ‘allumeuse’, is described as ‘un sourire plein d’une obscure nuit’.* 

7 ^ Letters^ vol. i, pp. 124—5.* 

73 The expression is from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 

74 Paris, 1885, vol. ii, book vi, chap, i, p. 10. Heine {Florentinische 
Ndchte^ i) had said of the Princess; ‘I shall never forget that face. It was 

J if those which seem to belong more to the fantastic realm of poetry than 
o the rude reality of life; contours which reminded one of Leonardo da 
Vinci, etc.’ On the Princess Belgiojoso see also pp. 121, 172, 244, and 
397-8 of this book. 

75 Barr^s, in his Visite d Leonard de Vinci {Trois Stations de psych- 
thirapie^ 1891) imagines one of Leonardo’s ambiguous faces (‘jeune fille, 
jeune homme?’) as conveying the following message in its smile; 

‘Parce que nous connaissons les lois de la vie et la marche des passions, aucune 
de VOS agitations ne nous etonne, rien de vos msultes ne nous blesse, rien de vos 
serments d’eternite ne nous trouble . . , Et cette clairvoyance ne nous apporte 
aucune tristesse, car c’est un plaisir parfait que d’etre perpetuellement curieux 
avec methode. . . . Mais nous sourions de voir la peine que tu prends pour deviner 
ce qm m’mteresse.’* 

76 For a detailed study of Wilde’s sources, see B. Fehr, Studien zu Oscar 
Wildes Gedickten (Berlin, Mayer und Muller, 1918; Palaestra, 100). 
Fehr remarks, among other things, that almost all the rare words which 
.ybccur in rhyme in The Sphinx are taken from Flaubert’s Tentation, 

77 See above, p. 230. 



THE ROMANTIC AGONY 


282 

’8 Op. cit, p. 18. 

79 See for example Cellini, Fita^ ii. xxix, xxx; and Diderot, Les Bijoux 
indiscrets^ chap, xli, where the ‘bijou* of Callipyge says: ‘On dit que mon 
rival aurait des autels au dela des Alpes’; and chap, xlix where Selim learns 
from the Italian ladies ‘les modes du plaisir’: ‘II y a dans ces raffinements 
du caprice et de la bizarrerie.’* 

*0 A morbid attraction fof cruel deeds, for the sight of physical and 
moral tortures, is extremely evident in all the novels of Guerrazzi, and 
Eliminates in Beatrice Cenci (1854^ written in 1850), into which the 
4 uthor said Turin, 1 89 1, vol. i, p. 7 16) that he had ‘poured the waves 
of his own soul*. This morbid attraction must certainly have been increased 
by the cruel disciplinary methods which were in use at the school of Don 
Agostino which Guerrazzi attended as a child (see Note Autohio^afiche 
by F. D. Guerrazzi, with a preface by R. Guastalla, Florence, Le Monnier, 
1899, pp. 38 et seq.), and also by reading, at a tender age, the novels of 
Mrs. Radcliffe: 

'The Mysteries of Udolpkoy A Castle in the Pyrenees, Granville Abbey, affected 
my mind profoundly; and above all The Confessional of the Black Pemtentsi 
from that time onwards I have never looked at them, and yet I seem to have 
mem always in front of my eyes; this could not have happened unless they 
contained in a very high degree something to stir and terrify one. . . . Such 
means of stirring the mind are truly tragic, nor can they be compared with 
grotesques.* {Note Autob,, pp. 55-7). 

Byron also Irft a deep impression on his imagination. Guerrazzi’s novels 
illustrate the more trivial aspects of the current of horrific Romanticism 
which, in Belgium, inspired the work of that turbid follower of Rubens, 
Antoine Wiertz (1806-65).* 

Naturally, once the fashion for certain ‘decadent’ themes had been 
introduced, examples of literary sadism were to be found also in Italy.* 
For instance, there was Mafarka le Futuriste, by F. T. Marinetti (which 
was written in French and then translated into Italian by Decio Cinti), of 
which Rachilde wrote, in the Mercure de France of July i st, 1 9 1 o : ^Mafarka 
m’a produit I’effet des Chants de Maldoror, le personnage qui joue du piano 
les doigts gantds de sang.’ 

Qa%zxtta Letter aria, 4th, 1896. ^3 p. ^6. 

P- 353- P- 475- “ PP- 273-4- P- 475* 

88 pp* 237-8. 89 p. 203. 90 p. 216. 91 p. 29. 

92 G. A. Borgese, Gabriele D'Annunzio (Naples, Ricciardi. 1909), 
especially pp. 63 etseq,; F. Flora, D'Annunzio (Naples, Ricciardi, 1926). 
»3 pp. 476-7- 

94 See for this as for other sources E. Thovez, L'Arco d' Ulisse (Naples, 
Ricciardi, 1921), in which are collected the well-known lists of sources 
which appeared in the Gazzetta Letteraria of the years 1895 and 1896. 

95 It may be worth recording here that in 1886 there had appeared 
from the ‘PlEade’ Press a dramatic poem by Pierre Quillard, La Fille aux 
mains coupies, in which the heroine had her hands cut off because they were 
contaminated by the ‘caresses incestueuses et brutales’ of her own father. 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 283 

This poem by Quillard merely recounts a very ancient legend (see note i 
of chap, iii), of which versions are to be found also in // Cnnio de h Cunti^ 
by G. B. Basile {La Penta Manomozza) and in the fables of Grimm {Das 
Madchen okne lidnde\ see ed. Bolte and PoHvka, voL i, pp. 295-31 1). 

^ Le Fergini delle Rocce^ pp. 221 et seq.: ‘I reconstructed in my mind 
the essential moment which had brought about the death of Pantea; and 
that nocturnal crime assumed in my eyes a hsauty of profound import- . . . 
He must have experienced a wonderful thrill in his innermost self.’ Umbe- 
lino, as he accompanies his sister to her last devotions, says to her: ‘ “O 
Pantea, how blessed you are ! Your soul’s place is in the lap of Our Lord 
Jesus Christ”. But silently he was saying to her things unspeakable, which 
she could not hear.’ (The inevitable profanation which accompanies 
sadistic desire.) The fountain in which Umbelino drowns Pantea bears 
the inscription (p. 256): ‘Spectarunt nuptas hie se Mors atque Voluptas — 
Unus [fama ferat], quum duo, vultus erat: Here Desire and Death, joined 
together, gazed at each other; and their two faces made one face.’ 

Forse che st, p. 442. 
pp. 381-2. 

The words of Nicolb d’Este, Act iii, ad jin. 

See the interpretation of Tristan in the Trionfo della Morte\ ‘Passion 
inspired her (Isolda) with a homicidal will, and awoke in the roots of her 
being an instinct hostile to existence, a need of dissolution, of annihilation* 
(p. 441). See also note 60 of chap, v, 

Gabriele D^Annunzio (Naples, Perrella, 1912), p. 333. 

102 See above, pp. 226-7. 

D’Annunzio’s Swinburnian sources will be found to a great extent 
catalogued inCn//Vtf, vol. viii,no. i, vol. x,no. 6,vol.xi,no.6,vol.xii, no. i. 
The first to compare the Fedra of D’Annunzio with Swinburne’s Phaedra 
was G. P. Lucini, in the article ‘L’indimenticabile risciacquatura delle 
molte “Fedre” ’ in La Ragione^ June 27th, 1909, an article which was 
reprinted in Antidannunziana (Milan, Studio Eitoriale Lombardo, 1914), 
pp. 260 et seq. 

La Gloria f pp. 106 and 194. 

^05 La Critica, vol. viii, no. i, p. 27 ; communication from Vittorio 
Lombardini. 

106 Cf.: 

. . . and over her shines fire. 

She hath sown pain and plague in all our house, 

Love loathed of love, and mates unmatchable. 

Wild wedlock, and the lusts that bleat or low. 

{Phaedra) 

Elle a ete TH^lene des Troyens. . . . Elle a 6t6 Dalila, qui coupait les cheveux 
de Samson. Elle a cette fille d*Israel qui s’abandonnait aux boucs. Elle a 
aime Fadultfere, ridolitrie, le mensonge et la sottise. Elle s’est prostitu^ k tons les 
peuples. Elle a chants dans tons les carrefours. Elle a bais4 tons les visages, &c. 

{La Tentation de Saint-‘Jntoine), 

Elsewhere {La Nave, p, 104) it is Swinburne’s Faustine who serves as 



284 the romantic AGONY 

model; ‘And who can ever say that I was not sent by God as a scourge 
for the nations?’: 

. • . Or did God mean 
To scourge with scorpions for a rod 
Our sins, Faustine ? 

107 {Quoted above, p. 253. 

108 pp^ 1 18 et seq. Coif pare, for example, the following with the 
passage quoted above on p. 227: 

*Ah, to shake thy life at thy lips . , . and not to take it from thee, but to leave it 
there in endless torment, to stifle it without extinguishing, to change it into an 
ill that may wring thy soul and yet not destroy it. . . 

Nor is Anactoria the only poem so used here. As usual, D’Annunzio’s lines 
are an anthology of several of Swinburne’s poems (JSespma^ Dolores, 
Phaedra, Laus Veneris. . . .). 

Flora, op. cit., p. 69: 

‘In this tragedy \La Gloria] the woman is strong, the man weak, cowardly and 
meanj but this is a not infrequent characteristic in D’Annunzio — ^Anna Com« 
nena, Gioconda, Mila di Codro, Basiliola, Mortella, Isabella, Gigliola, Fedra 
and others of his women are stronger and more vehement than the men: the 
women of D’Annunzio have more ^nil-power even when they are defeated, 
J because^ their will is reduced to sex, which is always D’Annunzio’s ultimate 
and ruling idea.* 

no Tragedia, madre d^incesto and La iussuria del sacrilegto. 

In Forse eke s\ ‘criminal sensuality’ communicates itself both to 
persons and landscapes, and aflfects even vocabulary and images. ‘Flog 
me !’— -shrieks Isabella Inghirami to her lover (p. 437). But it is not only 
the union of the two which is described as though it were a form of torture 
(PP- 43^41): _ 

‘And in the livid twilight . , . took place the fierce wrestling of two enemies 
joined together by the middle of their bodies, the growing anguish of the neck 
with its arteries swollen and crying out to be severed, the frenzied shake of one 
who stnves to drag from the lowest depths the red roots of life and to flmg them 
beyond the possible limit of man’s spasm, 

‘The man cried out as though his virility were being torn from him with the 
utmost cruelty} he raised himself, and then fell back. The woman quivered, 
with^a rattling sound which bro)^ into a moan even more inhuman than the 
man’s cry. And both remained exhausted on the floor, in the purple half-light, 
feeling themselves alive, befouled, but with something lifeless between them, 
with the remains of a dark crime between their bodies— which were now de- 
tached from each other, but remained pressed together at the point where that 
dark crime had been committed, prostrate and silent, overcome by a love which 
was greater than their love and which perhaps came to them from the place of 
lacerated, abandoned beauty.* 

Torture is to be found not only herei everything in the novel takes on a 
semblance of ‘lacerated beauty’, from the landscape of Volterra to the 
fate of Vana, the girl who kills herself in aesthetically arranged circum- 
stances, and this is a case in which the very superficial critical method of 
reading the first and the last pages gives an exact indication of the content. 
On the first page are to be found these words; ‘horrible’, ‘an almost brutal 



LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI 285 

cruelty’, ‘a ghastly offence against body and soul’, ‘an inhuman slight 
against love’, ‘desperate’, ‘mad’; and on the last: ‘the pain of the deep burn 
drew forth a cry from him’, ‘he could not bear the agony’. On the first 
page, at the very beginning, is also to be found the word ‘heroic’.* 

”2 This passage may be appositely commented upon with Colette’s 
opinion of such a trinity {Ces p/atsirs . . ., Paris, Ferenczi, 1932, p. 247): 

*Le vice pr^tentieux qui s'intitule “harmon?^ ternaire de I’amour’^ est un 
pifege tiiste. Sa monotonie, ses aspects cirque et “pyramide humaine” ont 
bient6t fait, je pcnse, de rebuter les plus grossiers.’ 

PP* 434 “ 5 » 449 » 45 1 - 

D’Annunzio, in describing Isabella’s state of mind, interweaves the 
songs of the ‘Pazzo di Cristo’ Qacopone da Todi] with the lines of 
Anactma. Fme eke si, pp. 345 et seq.: 

‘Now like the “Passo del Signore”, like the “Libro dell* Ardore”. ... she 
implored an alleviation of her voluptuous martyrdom. . . . The passion of those 
songs, that “Pazzia non conosciuta*’, that “Pazzia illuminata”, filled her nights 
with the delirium of their music. The throbbing of her soul stretched forth its 
pain to the stars, and poured out its lightless ^ towards things eternally in 
travail, whence dropped, now and then, fugitive tears, as though to touch her 
soul before they vanished. The Lover “with soul expanded** sang in her for 
love of love, like those tireless nightingales which sing till the whole Universe 
sings with them.’ 

Cf. Anactoriai 

. . . And fierce reluctance of disastrous stars. 


With sorrow of labouring moons, and altering light 
And travail of the Planets of the night. 

And weeping of the weary Pleiads seven 

Fierce noises of the fiery nightingales. 

The last image in the passage from D’Annunzio just quoted is taken from 
Shelley. 

”5 Cf. Anactoriai ‘Is not his incense bitterness, his meat — ^murder?’ &c. 
p. xlvi. 

^^7 A. Eulenburg, Sadismus und Masockismus {Grenxenfragen des Nerven^ 
und Seelenlebens^ vol. xix; Wiesbaden, 1902), pp. 18 et seq. 

The actual development of meaning in the word libertin shows the 
connexion between the idea of vice and that of revolt against the Divinity: 
libertin and esprit fort are synonymous. See F. Perrens, Les Libertins 
en France au XFlP siec/e (Paris, 1896) passim^ especially pp. 8 et seq., 
170 et seq. 

1x9 ‘I see that my poetical secret lies in a sensuality dragged free of the 
senses’ — ^D’Annunzio. 

120 We need merely mention that the type of cruel, sphinx-eyed woman 
is dominant in the series of novels called Grausame Frauen by Leopold 
von Sacher-Masoch, who gave his name to the sexual tendency illustrated 
in this chapter. 



286 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

On Rachilde, see chap, v, § 14. 

122 Cf. Trionfo delia Morte^ P* 353* *He believed that she had shown a 
morbid taste for an exactly similar form of irritation in some of the cases 
which had occurred, &c.’ 

te Jardin des suppiices^ pp. 114, 121, 158, 159. 

124 Cf, note III. 
p. 275. 

p. 155- 



CHAPTER V 

BYZANTIUM 


Ayexpitt^ de man ahsenct 
Au seuil de mes intentions! 

Mon dme estpdle cTimpuissance 
Et de blanches inactions. 

MAETERLINCK, Oraison (Serreschaudes). 

Flai<hesied^ crop-headed^ chemicahxed ^omeuy of 

indeterminate sex, 

and nxdmbly-vMmbly young men, of sex still more 

indeterminate. 

D. H. LAWRENCE. 




CHAPTER V 

BYZANTIUM 

I. Delacroix, as a painter, was fiery, and dramatic; 
Gustave Moreau strove to be cold and static. The 
former painted gesture, the latter attitude§. Although 
far apart in artistic merit (after all, Delacroix in his best 
work is a great painter), they are highly representative of 
the moral atmosphere of the two periods in which they 
flourished — of Romanticism, with its fury of frenzied 
kction, and of Decadence, with its sterile contemplation. 
The subject-matter is almost the same — ^voluptuous, gory 
exoticism. But Delacroix lives inside his subject, whereas 
Moreau worships his from outside, with the result that the 
first is a painter, the second a decorator. 

Moreau advocated two principles, in opposition to the 
emotional qualities which he held to be an infiltration of 
literature into painting — ^the principle of the Beauty of 
■'Inertia and the principle of the Necessity of Richness. The 
Beauty of Inertia was the particular quality which he pro- 
fessed to find in the Prophets, the Sibyls, and the allegorical 
sepulchral figures of Michaelangelo : 

‘Toutes ces %ures [he said] semblent Stre fig^es dans un 
geste de somnambulisme id&il; elles sont inconscientes du mouve- 
ment qu’elles ex&utent, absorbdes dans la rfeverie au point de 
pataltre emport^es vers d’autres mondes.’ 

Moreau believed that he was following the teaching of 
Michaelangelo as regards this Beauty of Inertia, and of the 
Flemish, Rhenish, Umbrian, and Venetian Primitives as 
regards the principle of redundant decoration; ‘Consultez 
les maitr6s. Ils vous donnent tous le conseil de ne pas faire 
d’art pauvre’ ; he believed also that he was realizing pure 
-^rt as formulated by Bau delaire , that is, that his ‘Beauty 
of Inertia* conformed to the following rule:=t 

‘La passion est chose naturellty trop naturelle m&ne, pour ne pas 
introduire un ton blessant, discordant, dans le domaine de la Beaut^ 
pure; trop ifemili^re et trop violente pour ne pas scandaliser les 
purs D&irs, les gracieuses M^lancolies et les nobles D&espoirs qui 
habitent les regions sumaturelles de la Po&ie’. 



290 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

And that his ‘Necessity of Richness’ conformed to this 

second rule:^ 

‘Comme un rSve est plac^ dans une atmosphere color^e qui lui 
est propre, de mSme une conception, devenue composition, a besoin 
de se mouvoir dans un milieu colore qui lui soit particulier. H y 
a evidemment un ton pa^iculier attribu^ k une partie quelconque 
du tableau qui devient clef et qui gouverne les autres. ... Tous les 
personnages, leur disposition relative, le paysage ou I’interieur qui 
leur sert de fond ou d’horizon, leurs vStements, tout enfin doit 
servir k illuminer I’id^e gen^rale et porter sa couleur originelle, sa 
livree pour ainsi dire. . . . Un bon tableau, fidble et ^gal au rSve qui 
I’a enfante, doit dtre produit comme un monde.’ 

The amusing thing is that Baudelaire, in speaking here 
of Delacroix, made use of the Master’s own expressions. 
So true is it that the same aesthetic principle may be 
quoted in support of diametrically opposed kinds of 
inspiration. 

Baudelaire also added 

‘L’art du coloriste tient ^videmment par de certains c&t& aux 
math^matiques et k la musique.* 

Following the example of Wagner’s music, which was 
7 then in fashion, Moreau composed his pictures in the style 

symphonic poems, loading them with significant ac- 
cessories in which the principal theme was echoed, until 
the subject yielded the last drop of its symbolic sap. 

Though the aesthetics of Baudelaire and the music of 
Wagner may have been the theoretical premises of 
Moreau’s painting, it is quite obvious that in other 
respects these theories would not of themselves have 
sufficed to endow his painting with certain of its peculiar 
qualities, since it was possible for them to be — since, in 
fiict, they actually were — brought into use in support of 
extremely different ideas. Moreau’s figures are am- 
biguous; it is hardly possible to distinguish at the first 
glance which of two lovers is the man, which the woman; 
all his characters are linked by subtle bonds of relationship, 
as in Swinburne’s Leshia Brandon \ lovers look as though 
they were related, brothers as though they were lovers, 
\.ifien have the faces of virg^s, virgins the faces of youths ; 



BYZANTIUM 291 

^the symbols of Good and Evil are entwined and equivo- 
cally confused. There is no contrast between different 
ages, sexes, or types: the underlying meaning of this 
painting is incest, its most exalted figure the Androgyne, 
its final word sterility 

It is precisely in such painting, a^the same time sexless 
and lascivious, that the spirit of the Decadent movement 
is most vividly expressed. Nor was it for nothing that the 
discoverer of Moreau should have been Huysmans, 
creator of the character of des Esseintes, the monster of 
decadence of whom d’Aurevilly wrote :5 

‘Des Esseintes n’est plus un Stre organist k la maniere d’Ober- 
mann, de Rend, d’ Adolphe, ces hdros de romans humains, passion- 
nds et coupables. C’est une mdcanique detraquee. Rien de plus. — 
En dcrivant I’autobiographie de son hdros, il [Huysmans] ne fait 
pas que la confession particulifere d’une personnalitd depravde et 
solitaire, mais, du mdme coup, il nous dcrit la nosographie d’une 
sodetd putrifi^ de matdrialisme. . . . Certes! pour qu’un ddcadent 
de cette force pClt se produire et qu’un livre comme celui de M. 
Huysmans p6t germer dans ime tdte humaine, il fallait vraiment 
que nous fussions devenus ce que nous sommes, — une race h sa 
demiere heure.’ 

Let us for a moment leave aside this idea of the jin de 
stick and the jinis Latinorum’. these were things in which 
people believed at the time, but all that it is necessary to 
emphasize here is that this was actually a widespread 
feeling. Huysmans’ remarks on the subject of Moreau 
are evidence of what such painting meant to his con- 
temporaries, and they bring us back to the discussion of 
the Fatal Woman. 

2. Huysmans imagines des Esseintes as having ac- 
quired the two masterpieces of Gustave Moreau, the 
artist above all others ‘dont le talent le ravissait en de longs 
transports’^ — ^the oil-painting called Salome ^in the Mante 
Collection) and the water-colour U Apparition (now in the 
Luxembourg Museum), both of which were exhibited at 
the 1876 Sdon, which marked the success of this painter 
in the same way in which the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition 
of 1856 had marked the success of D. G. Rossetti. Huys- 
mans’ faithful description helps one to trace the type of 



2^2 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

literature to which Moreau’s soi-disant anti4iterary paint- 
ing was related. He describes Salome as follows : 

*Un tr6ne se dressait, pareil au maltre-autel d’une cathedrale, 
sous d’innombrables voutes jaillissant de colonnes trapues ainsi 
que des piliers romans, ^maill^es de briques polychromes, serties 
de mosaiques, incrustdes lapis et de sardoines, dans un palais 
semblable k une basilique d’une architecture tout ^ la fois musul- 
mane et byzantine. 

*Au centre du tabernacle surmontant Tautel precede de marches 
en forme de semi-vasques, le Tetrarque Herode etait assis, coilFe 
d^une tiare, les jambes rapprochees, les mains sur les genoux. . . . 

‘Autour de cette statue, immobile, fig6e dans une pose hi^ratique 
de dieu Hindou, des parfums brCtlaient, degorgeant des nuees de 
vapeurs que trouaient, de mSme que des yeux phosphores de b^tes, 
les feux des pierres enchiss^es dans les parois du tr6ne5 puis la vapeur 
montait, se deroulait sous les arcades oti la fum& bleue se mfelait 
^ la poudre d’or des grands rayons de jour, tomb& des domes. 

*Dans I’odeur perverse des parfums, dans Tatmosphere sur- 
chauff^e de cette ^glise, Salome, le bras gauche dtendu, en un geste 
de commandement, le bras droit replie, tenant, k la hauteur du 
visage, un grand lotus, s’avance lentement sur les pointes, aux 
accords d^une guitare dont une femme accroupie pince les cordes/ 

In Flaubert’s Tentation we read:^ 

‘Et Antoine voit devant lui une basilique immense. 

‘La lumiere se projette du fond, merveilleuse comme serai t un 
soleil multicolore. . . . Et il [Hilarion] le pousse vers un trone d’or 
k cinq marches oh . . . siege le proph^te Manes — beau comme un 
archange, immobile comme une statue, portant une robe indienne, 
des escarboucles dans ses cheveux nattfe, k sa main gauche un livre 
d’images peintes, et sous sa droite un globe. . . . Manes fait tourner 
son globe; et reglant ses paroles sur une lyre d’oh s’echappent des 
sons cristallins , . / 

Huysmans is describing Salome’s appearance : 

‘La face recueillie, solennelle, presque auguste, elle commence la 
lubrique danse qui doit r6veiller les sens assoupis du vieil Herode, 
ses seins ondulent et, au frottement de ses colliers qui tourbillonnent, 
leurs bouts se dressent; sur la moiteur de la peau les diamants, 
attach^, scintillent; ses bracelets, ses ceintures, ses bagues, crachent 
des etincelles; sur sa robe triomphale, couturie de perles, ramagfe 
d’argent, hmcc d’or, la cuirasse des orfevreries dont chaque maille 
est une pierre, entre en combustion, croise des serpenteaux de feu, 
grouille sur la chair mate, sur la peau rose th^, ainslque des insectes 



BYZANTIUM 293 

splendides aux elytres eblouissants, marbr& de carmin, ponctufe de 
jaune aurore, diapr& de bleu d’acier, tigres de vert paon.’ 

This Salome is sister of the Queen of Sheba in the 
Tentation 

‘Sa robe en brocart d’or, divisee r^gulierement par des falbalas 
de perles, de jais et de saphirs, lui serrt la taille dans un corsage 
itroitj rehausse d^applications de couleur, qui repr&entent les douze 
signes du Zodiaque, . , , Ses larges manches, garnies d’emeraudes et 
de plumes d’oiseau, laissent voir k nu son petit bras rond. . . . Une 
chaine d’or plate, lui passant sous le menton, monte le long de ses 
joues, s’enroule en spirale autour de sa coiifFure, poivree de poudre 
bleuej puis, redescendant, lui efiieure les epaules et vient s’attacher 
sur sa poitrine k un scorpion de diamant, qui allonge la langue entre 
ses seins, etc.’ 

Huysmans sees in Moreau's Salome the type of Fatal 
Woman described in the last chapter: 

‘Ce type de Salom^ si hantant pour les artistes et pour les pofetes, 
obs^dait, depuis des ann^es, des Esseintes. . . . Ni saint Mathieu, ni 
saint Marc, ni saint Luc, ni les autres ^vang^listes ne s’etendaient 
sur les charmes ddirants, sur les actives depravations de la danseuse. 
Elle demeurait effac6e, se perdait, myst6rieuse et pimee, dans le 
brouillard lointain des siecles, insaisissable pour les esprits precis et 
terre k terre, accessible seulement aux cervelles ^branl^es, aiguisees, 
comme rendues visionnaires par la nevrose. . . incomprehensible pour 
tous les ecrivains qui n’ont jamais pu rendre I’inquiltante exaltation 
de la danseuse, la grandeur rafEnfe de I’assassine. 

‘Dans I’oeuvre de Gustave Moreau, con 9 ue en dehors de toutes 
les donn^es du Testament, des Esseintes voyait enfin rdalisee cette 
Salome surhumaine et etrange qu’il avait revee. . . . Elle devenait, en 
quelque sorte, la deite symbolique de I’indestructible Luxure, deesse 
de rimmortelle Hysterie, la Beaute maudite, elue entre toutes par 
la catalepsie qui lui raidit les chairs et lui durcit les musclesj la B6te 
monstrueuse, indifFerente, irresponsable, insensible, empoisonnant, 
de m^me que I’Hdfene antique, tout ce qui I’approche, tout ce qui 
la voit, tout ce qu’elle touche. . . . Le peintre semblait d’ailleurs avoir 
voulu afErmer sa volont^ de rester hors des siecles, de ne point 
preciser d’origine, de pays, d’epoque, en mettant sa Salom^ au 
milieu de cet extraordinaire palais, d’un style confus et grandiose, 
en la vetant de somptueuses et chimeriques robes, en la mitrant 
d’un incertain diademe en forme de tour phenicienne tel qu’en porte 
la Salammbo, en lui pla 9 ant enfin dans la main le sceptre d’Isis, la 
fleur sacrfe de l'£gypte et de I’Inde, le grand lotus.’ 



29+ THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Des Esseintes dilates upon the meaning of this em- 
blematic flower: is it a phallic symbol, or an allegory of 
fertility, or was the painter thinking of ia danseuse, la 
femme mortelle, le Vase souilld, cause de tous les p^ch^s 
et de tous les crimes’, or was he remembering the embalm- 
ing custom of ancient- Egypt by which lotus-petals were 
inserted in the sexual organs of corpses for the purpose of 
purification ? 

However, even more disquieting than this to des Es- 
seintes was the water-colour called U Apparition, in which 
the severed head of the Saint appears, after the crime, to 
a half-naked, terrified Salome, less majestic and proud 
‘mais plus troublante que la Salome du tableau k I’huile’ :* 
‘Id, elle ^tait vraiment fille; elle obdssait k son temperament de 
femmfe ardente et cruelle; elle vivait, plus raffinee et plus sauvage, 
plus execrable et plus exquisej elle reveillait plus energiquement les 
sens en lethargie de Thomme, ensorcelait, domptait plus sfirement 
ses volontes, avec son charme de grande fleur venerienne, poussee 
dans des couches sacrileges, eievde dans des serres impies.’ 

He concludes with a comprehensive appreciation of the 
art of Moreau, in which he discovers only a vague affinity 
with Mantegna, Jacopo de’ Barbari, Leonardo, Delacroix, 
but above all a unique originality 

‘Remontant aux sources ethnographiques, aux origines des 
mythologies dont il comparait et d^mSlait les sanglantes enigmesj 
r6unissant, fondant en une seule les Idgendes issues de I’Extrgme 
Orient et m^tamorphos^es par les croyances des autres peuples, il 
justifiait ainsi ses fusions architectoniques, ses amalgames luxueux 
et inattendus d’^toffes, ses hi^ratiques et sinistres allegories aiguisees 
par les inqui^tes perspicuites d’un nervosisme tout moderne; et il 
restait h jamais douloureux, hante par les sjnnboles des perversites 
et des amours surhumaines, des stupres divins consommes sans 
abandons et sans espoirs. 

‘Il y avait dans ses oeuvres desesperees et Erudites un enchante- 
ment singulier, une incantation vous remuant jusqu’au fond des 
entrailles, comme celle de certains poemes de Baudelaire. . . .’ 

3- In direct opposition to Huysmans’ interpretation, 
which was later developed by Lorrain, Ary Renan, in his 
study of this painter, 't® speaks of the ‘litt^rature adventice’ 
which had exalted and commented upon Moreau’s two 
pictures ‘avec le parti pris d’y ddcouvrir des depravations 



BYZANTIUM 295 

occultes^; ‘II est necessaire’, says this critic, *de les purifier 
de ces paraphrases suspectes et, pour ainsi dire, de les 
exerciser.’* However, the interpretation that he suggests 
comes to the same conclusion : 

. . Moreau vivant de longues annees sous Tobsession de ce nom 
de femme, hante par la vision d’un geste impitoyable, par Fhorreur 
de ce sang de juste vers6 pour la grace d un 6tre fatal et beau; car, 
ce qu’il demande a Tamer recit de Tfivangile, e’est encore un 
monstre k peindre, un monstre femelle encore, dont la force r^ide 
k la fois dans sa beaute charnelle, dans la pratique d’artifices maudits, 
dans une malignite spontanfe ou suggeree. La syrienne Salome 
devient ainsi, par le d&ir qu’elle a congu ou par la vengeance qu’elle 
sert, Tincarnation d’une harmonieuse et navrante energie du Mai, 
Touvriere d’un de ces crimes demesures qu’il appartient k Tart de 
magnifier/ 

The favourite theme of Moreau, which he never tires 
of treating in his pictures, is that of Fatality, of Evil and 
incarnate in female beauty. These are the words 
with which he himself commentedupon the picture he called 
Les ChimereSy with the sub-title of ‘D^cam^ron satanique’:” 

*Cette lie des r^ves fantastiques renferme toutes les formes de 
la passion, de la fantaisie, du caprice chez la femme. 

*La Femme, dans son essence premiere, T^tre inconscient, folle 
de Tinconnu, du mystere, Uprise du mal, sous la forme de seduction 
perverse et diabolique. R€ves d’enfants, r^ves des sens, reves mon- 
strueux, reves mdancoliques, reves transportant Tesprit et T^me 
dans le vague des espaces, dans le mystere de Tombre, tout doit 
ressentir Tinfluence des sept pech& capitaux, tout se trouve dans 
cette enceinte satanique, dans ce cercle des vices et des ardeurs 
coupables, depuis le germe d’apparence encore innocente jusqu’aux 
fleurs monstrueuses et fatales des abimes. Ce sont des theories de 
reines maudites venant de quitter le serpent aux sermons fescina- 
teurs; ce sont des etres dont Time est abolie, attendant, sur le bord 
des chemins, le passage du bouc lascif, monte par la luxure qu’on 
adorera au passage. Des etres isoles, sombres, dans un r^ve d’envie, 
d’orgueil inassouvi, dans leur isolement bestial; des femmes en- 
fourchant des chimeres, qui les emportent dans Tespace d’oti elles 
retombent eperdues d’horreur et de vertige. . . . Au loin, la Ville 
morte, aux passions sommeillantes; Ville du Moyen Age, ipre et 
silencieuse, etc.’ 

Moreau sought the theme of sataniej^gauty in primitive 
mythology and treated it in his pictures of the so-called 



296 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

‘Sphinx’ series; this began with the painting which wa<5 
the success of the 1864 Salon, in which the cruel beast 
with the face of an imperious woman plants her claws on 
the breast of the languid youth Oedipus, and ended with 
the water-colour exhibited in 1886 at the Goupil Galleries, 
Le Sphinx vainqueur^ in which the Sphinx reigns supreme 
over a promontory bnstling with bleeding corpses; he 
treated it also in the Helene^ exhibited in the Salon of 1880, 
in which the Fatal Woman, glittering with jewels, stalks, 
as though entranced, among the dying: 

‘Un enlacement de victimes navrees ^ mort se denoue k ses 
pieds. . . . On dirait qu’ils se sont rues sur un biicher volontaire, 
L’hommage de leur vie que ces guerriers, ces princes, ces poetes, 
adressent en vain a Tidole errante se lit sur leurs fronts; un vague 
sourire passe sur leurs traits blemis; leurs membres paralyse se de- 
tendent, leurs levres s’amollissent, et de Phecatombe oti ces etranges 
victimes se sont ofFertes s’exhalent, non des imprecations ni d’ameres 
paroles mais des soupirs apais&, une plainte d’enfants qui s’endor- 
ment sous la consolation d’une caresse aim^e. . . . Le tableau . . . 
respire le carnage et la volupte,’ 

Thus Ary Renan, who goes even farther here in his 
sinister interpretation of Moreau than Huysmans himself, 
who confined himself to saying 

‘A ses pieds gisent des amas de cadavres perc& de fleches, et, 
de son auguste beauts blonde, elle domine le carnage, majestueuse et 
superbe commelaSalammbo apparaissantauxmercenaires, semblablc 
a une divinity malfaisante qui empoisonne, sans mSme qu’elle en ait 
conscience, tout ce qui Papproche ou tout ce qu’elle regarde et touche.’ 

It was this Helen, obvious prototype of D’Annunzio’s 
Basiliola, who afterwards inspired Samain with the follow- 
ing sonnet (from VUrnep^nchie. in Le Jardin de r Infante. 
1897 edition): 

L’^cre vapeur d’un soir de bataille surnage, 

L’Argienne aux bras Wanes a franchi les remparts, 

Et vers le fleuve rouge, oh les morts sont ^pars. 

Solitaire, s’avance k travers le carnage. 

Lk-bas, les feux des Grecs brillent sur le rivage; 

Les chevaux immortels hennissent pres des chars. . • . 

Lente, elle va parmi les cadavres hagards, 

Et passe avec horreur sa main sur son visage. 



BYZANTIUM 297 

Qu’elle apparalt divine aux lueurs du couchant! . . . 

Des longs voiles secrets, qu’elle ecarte en marchant, 

Monte une odeur d’amour irresistible et sombre; 

Et ddj^ les mourants, saignants et mutil&. 

Rampant vers ses pieds nus sur leurs coudes dans I’ombre, 
Touchent ses cheveux d’or et meurent console. 

The vision of Helen which appears in Giovanni Pascoli’s 
Anticlo (in Poemi Convivialt) is similar: 

‘And so, as Anticlo was already dying, there came to him, as 
in the mute vision of a dream, Helena. Hotly around her burned 
the blaze, above the blaze shone the full moon. She passed, silent 
and serene, like the moon, through the fire and the blood. The 
flames writhed higher at her passing; men’s veins pressed forth a 
subtler stream of blood. And the last walls crashed down, and the 
last sobs were heard. . . .’ 

In Pascoli, however, the vision is more chaste, and his 
Anticlo, who wishes only to remember Helen, is nearer to 
the spirit of the Trojan ancients who considered the war 
for such beauty to be a just one, than to the dark sensuality 
of the dying men of Samain. 

But Salome, Helen, and the Sphinx are not the only 
incarnations of eternal feminine cruelty in the work of 
Moreau, whose delectatio morbosa in subjects of sensual 
cruelty and suffering beauty is testified by the innumerable 
canvases which cover the walls of the museum he be- 
queathed to the State. The Athenians delivered to the 
Minotaur, slaves given as food to lampreys, the young man 
conquered by the fascination of Death, Diomede torn by 
horses, the Thracian maiden half-fainting as she gazes at 
the severed head of Oipheus, Saint Sebastian, the heap of^ 
beautiful bodies at the reet of the Hydra, the slaughter of' 
the Suitors . . . Moreau justified his predilection for such* 
subjects by an ethical-religious theory — ^he claimed that 
he was celebrating ‘la glorification des sacrifices et 
I’apoth^ose des rddempteurs’. 

Other pictures illustrate tremendous, monstrous loves 
— Pasiphae waiting for the bull, Semele, palpitating 
victim on the knee of the Titanic god, Leda, Europa, sub- 
jects whose sensuality has become frozen in the visionary 
symbolism of languid and lascivious forms. The painter 



298 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

lingers in this world of his like a child who never tires of 
listening to terrible and mysterious stories, and his figures 
have exactly that suggestion of the abstract and epicene 
which is characteristic of the childish imagination. One 
has the impression in Moreau, as in Swinburne, of an 
ambiguous, troubled se^ality. We have travelled far from 
Delacroix’ Sardanapalus, who contemplates with a satis- 
fied air the hecatomb of lovely slave-girls: this is a 
massacre of youths who burn for a kiss from cruel Helen, 
the majestic Fatal Woman. 

y Delacroix was descended from Byron, Moreau is a fore- 
"Tunner of Maeterlinck. 

4. It was, in fact, from the plays of Maeterlinck (par- 
ticularly ha Princesse Maleine^ 1889, and Les sept Prin- 
cesses^ 1891 : Maeterlinck became famous as the result of 
an article by Mirbeau in the Figaro of August 24th, 1890) 
that Oscar Wilde derived the childish prattle employed by 
the characters in his Salome (written in French in 1891, 
published in 1893),!^ which reduces the voluptuous 
Orient of Flaubert’s Tentation to the level of a nursery 
tale. It is childish, but it is also humoristic, with a humour 
which one can with difficulty believe to be unintentional, 
so much does Wilde’s play resemble a parody of the whole 
of the material used by the Decadents and of the stammer- 
ing mannerism of Maeterlinck’s dramas — and, as a parody, 
Salome comes very near to being a masterpiece. Yet it 
seems that Wilde was not quite aiming at this, either in 
the play or in the poem The Sphinx, which was discussed 
in tlie last chapter. 

It was Wilde who finally fixed the legend of Salome’s 
horrible passion. There is no suggestion of this to be 
found in Flaubert’s tale (Herodiaf), in which Salome is 
merely the tool of her mother’s vengeance and after the 
dance becomes confused in repeating the instructions of 
Herodias: ' 

En zfeayant un peu, [elle] prononga ces mote, d’un air enfantin: 

— Je veux que tu me donnes dans un plat, la tSte . . . 

EUe avait oubli^ le nom, mais reprit en souriant: 

— La tfite de laokanann! 

Wilde repeats this repartee on the part of Salome, but 



BYZANTIUM 299 

in quite a different sense, Salome denies that she has made 
the request at her mother's instigation. ‘C'est pour mon 
propre plaisir que je demande la tete de lokanaan dans un 
bassin d'argent.’ And, having obtained the head, she 
fastens her lips upon it in her vampire passion. Yet not 
o?ven here can Wilde be given credit for originality.^^ He 
did not take the idea of Salome's monstrous passion from 
Flaubert, where it did not exist, nor yet from the pages of 
A rebours devoted to the paintings of Moreau — pages and 
pictures which certainly had their influence upon the play, 
but in an incidental manner: in them, in any case, the idea 
of sensual cruelty remained vague. Heinrich Heine, in 
Atta Troll (written in 1 841), had been the first to introduce 
into literature this theme, which he derived from popular 
tradition.^® Herodias appears in the cavalcade of spirits 
seen from the witch Uraka's window (Caput XIX) 

And the third of those fair figures, 

Which thy heart had moved so deeply, 

Was it also some she-devil 
Like the other two depicted ? 

If a devil or an angel, 

I know not. With women never 
Knows one clearly, where the angel 
Leaves off and the devil begins. 

O’er the face of glowing languor 
Lay an Oriental magic. 

And the dress recalled with transport 
All Sheherazade’s stories. 

Lips of softness like pomegranates, 

Lily-white the arching nose. 

And the limbs, refreshing, taper, 

Like a palm in some oasis. 

High she was on white steed seated, 

Whose gold rein two Moors were holding, 

As along the way they trotted 
At the Princess’ side afoot. 

Yes, she was indeed a princess, 

Was the sovereign of Judaea, 

Was the beauteous wife of Herod, 

Who the Baptist’s head demanded. 



300 


THE ROMANTIC AGONY 
For this deed of blood was she too 
Execrated; and as spectre 
Must until the day of Judgement 
Ride among the goblin hunt. 

In her hands she carries ever 
That sad charger, with the head of 
^John the Bap^dst, which she kisses; 

Yes, the head with fervour kisses. 

For, time was, she loved the Baptist — 

’Tis not in the Bible written. 

But there yet exists the legend 
Of Herodias* bloody love — 

Else there were no explanation 
Of that lady’s curious longing — 

Would a woman want the head of 
"-'Any man she did not love ? 

Was perhaps a little peevish 
With her swain, had him beheaded; 

But when she upon the charger 
Saw the head so well beloved. 

Straight she wept and mad became, 

And she died of love’s distraction — 

Love’s distraction! Pleonasmus! 

Why, love is itself distraction! 

Rising up at night she carries. 

In her hand, as now related, 
vWhen she hunts, the bleeding head — 

Yet with woman’s maniac frenzy 
Sometimes, she, with childish laughter. 

Whirls it in the air above her. 

Then again will nimbly catch it. 

Like a plaything as it falls. 

As she rode along before me, 

She regarded me and nodded, 

So coquettish yet so pensive. 

That my inmost soul was moved. 

""-Heine’s Heredias had a success in France. Banville 
was inspired by it to write one of the sonnets in his 
Princesses (i 874), of which the epigraph is the passage from 
Atta Prolix *Car elle ^tait vraiment princesse: c’^tait la 
reine de Jud&, la femme d’H^rode, celle qui a demand^ 



BYZANTIUM 301 

la tSte de Jean-Baptiste’; he had already described the 
Salome of the picture by Henri Regnault^® (now in the 
Metropolitan Museum, New York) in a sonnet, called La 
Danseuse (January, 1870, in Rimes dories) — ‘roeil en- 
chant6 par les orfbvreries — du riant coutelas vermeil et du 
bassin’, concluding: 

. . . Comme c’est votre joie, 6 fragiles poup^! 

Car vous avez toujours aim6 naivement 

Les joujoux flamboyants et les tStes couples. 

In La ForStbleue (1883), Jean Lorrain also was inspired 
by Heine’s lines for his medallions of Diana, Herodias, 
and Dame Habonde. Lorrain, however, merely described 
‘la chasse H^rodiade’, without spending any time over the 
details of the legend. 

A reflection of Heine’s poem seems to be visible in 
Wilde, when he makes Herod say: 

‘Voyons, Salom6, il faut fetre raisonnable, n’est-ce pas ? . . . Au 
fond, je ne crois pas que vous soyez s^rieuse. La tSte d’un homme 
d^capit^, c’est une chose laide, n’est-ce pas? Ce n’est pas une chose 
qu’une vierge doive regarder. Quel plaisir cela pourrait-il vous 
donner? Aucun. Non, non, vous ne voulez pas cela. . . .’ 

One thinks of the witty lines : 

Anders war’ ja unerklarlich 
Das Geliiste jener Dame — 

Wird ein Weib das Haupt begehren 
Eines Manns, den sie nicht liebt? 

In one of the Moraliies legendaires (published in La 
Vogue for June-July, 1886, then, with alterations, in the 
Revue independante edition, 1887), Jules Laforgue im- 
proved upon Heine’s ironical attitude by presenting an 
exquisite caricature of Salome — almost as she might be 
presented in a musical comedy by another Offenbach bent 
on toying with suggestions of the sinister, or as she actually 
appears in the illustrations which Beardsley later devised 
for Wilde’s play. This is Laforgue’s Salome: 

‘Ses 6paules nues retenaient, redressee au moyen de brassibres de 
nacre, une roue de paon nain, en fond changeant, moire, azur, or, 
6meraude, halo sur lequel s’enlevait sa candide t€te, tSte sup^rieure 
mais cordialement insouciante de se sentir unique, le a>l fliuch^ les 



302 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

yeux decomposes d’expiations chato3^ntes, les levres decouvrant 
d’un accent circonflexe rose pile une denture aux gencives d’un 
rose trhs pile encore, en un sourire des plus crucifies. . • . Elle vacil- 
lait sur ses pieds, ses pieds exsangues, aux orteils dcartes, chausses 
uniquement d’un anneau aux chevilles d’oii pleuvaient d’eblouis- 
santes franges de moire jaune. . . . Qui pouvait bien lui avoir crucifie 
son sourire, la petite Imm^uiee-Conception ? . . . 

‘Salome, apnt donne cours i un petit rire toussotant, peut-Stre 
pour fiiire assavoir que surtout fallait pas croire qu’elle se prenait 
au serieux, pince sa lyre noire jusqu’au sang, et, de la voix sans 
timbre et sans sexe d’un malade qui rdclame sa potion dont, au 
fond, il n’a jamais eu plus besoin que vous ou moi, improvisa k 
meme. . . . 

‘ — Et maintenant, mon pere, je desirerais que vous me fassiez 
monter chez moi, en un plat quelconque, la tfete de laokanann.** 
C’est dit. Je monte Tattendre. 

‘Or li, sur un coussin, parmi les debris de la lyre d’ebene, la tSte 
de Jean (comme jadis celle d’Orphee) brillait, enduite de phosphore, 
lavde, fardee, frisee, faisant rictus k ces vingt-quatre millions d’astres. 

‘Aussit6t Tobjet livre, Salome, par acquit de conscience scienti- 
fique, avait essayd ces fameuses experiences d’aprfes decollation, dont 
on park tantj elle s’y attendait, les passes eiectriques ne tirerent de 
la face que grimaces sans consequence.’ 

Finally Salome ^baisa cette bouche misericordieusement 
et hermetiquement, et scella cette bouche de son cachet 
corrosif (procdde instantand)', and died, as a result of 
losing her balance while throwing the head of laokanann 
from a promontory into the sea, ‘moins victime des 
hasards illettres que d’avoir voulu vivre dans le factice et 
non k la bonne franquette, k Tinstar de chacun de nous’* 

Therefore, even before Wilde made use of the story of 
Salome, both Heine and Laforgue had emptied it of all 
tragic content by their ironical treatment of it* Yet, as 
generally happens with specious second-hand works, it 
was precisely Wilde’s Salome which became popular.* In 
1896 the play, originally written for Sarah Bernhardt — 
who had been prevented from performing it by the censor 
— ^had a moderate success at the Thditre de I’CEuvre; in 
1901, a year after Wilde’s death, it was given in Berlin, 
and since then — ^thanks also to the music of Richard 



BYZANTIUM 303 

Strauss — it has continued to figure in the repertories of 
European theatres. In Germany it has held the boards for 
a longer period than any other English play, including the 
plays of Shakespeare. It has been translated into Czech, 
into Dutch, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Catalan, 
Swedish, and even Yiddish. In Italy it became part of the 
repertory of Lyda Borelli, and I still remember with what 
enthusiasm the gentlemen’s opera-glasses were levelled at 
the squinting diva, clothed in nothing but violet and 
absinthe-green shafts of limelight. The Salomes of Flau- 
bert, of Moreau, Laforgue, and Mallarme are known only 
to students of literature and connoisseurs, but the Salome 
of the genial comedian Wilde is known to all the world.<^ 

5. I have left to the last what is perhaps the most 
significant picture of Salome — ^significant not only artisti- 
cally but also as a psychological interpretation — ^the 
Herodtade of Mallarm^. Though it became known to the 
public only in 1898, the poet’s friends were already ac- 
quainted with it a long time before, and naturally Huys- 
mans’ des Esseintes had a copy of the dramatic fragment 
in a precious manuscript of verse by this abstruse poet in 
his possession: ‘Un fragment de VHerodiade le subjuguait 
de mSme qu’un sortilfege, k certaines heures.’ Contem- 
plating at the same time Moreau’s water-colour, which was 
hung on a wall of his library, enveloped in the shadows of 
twilight, des Esseintes sips ^e lines which Mallarm^ put 
into the mouth of the painter’s bewitching creature: 

‘Ces vers, il les aimait comme il aimait les oeuvres de ce pofete 

qui vivait k I’^cart des lettres . . . se complaisant, loin du monde, 

aux surprises de I’intellect, aux visions de sa cervelle, raffinant sur 
des pensees d^ja spdcieuses, les grefiant de finesses byzantines, les 
perpetuant en des deductions ligbrement indiquees que reliait k 
peine un imperceptible fil.’“ 

There is more in Mallarm6’s lines than the mere 
horror of the episode of theTfeheading of St. John the 
Baptist; they present, so to speak, a synthe^ portrait of 
the whole Decadent Movement in the figure of the 
^arcissist-virgin (narcissist to such an extent that Valdry’s 
Narcisse actually takes its impulse from here); and even 



304 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

the French language, in the hands of Mallarme, becomes 

coloured with Virginite anubile et ravissante\^3 

It is true that this Salome is bejewelled and fatal like 
that of Moreau, but the poem expresses not so much the 
external aura of preciosity which surrounds her as the 
anguish of a sterile, l<;wiely soul, troubled with diseased 
imaginings : 

Nourrice, Triste fleur qui crolt seule et n’a pas d’autre 6moi 
Que son ombre dans I’eau vue avec atonic. 

Herodiade, Oui, c’est pour moi, pour moi, que je fleuris, d^erte! 

J’aime Thorreur d’etre vierge et je veux 
Vivre parmi PefFroi que me font mes cheveux 
Pour, le soir, retiree en ma couche, reptile 
Inviol^ sentir en la chair inutile 
Le froid scintillement de ta pile clart6 
Toi qui te meurs, toi qui brules de chastet6, 

Nuit blanche de glagons et de neige cruelle! 

Et ta soeur solitaire, 6 ma soeur ^ternelle, 

Mon rfeve montera vers toi: telle deji 
Rare limpidity d’un cceur qui le songea, 

Je me crois seule en ma monotone patrie 
Et tout, autour de moi, vit dans Pidolitrie 
D’un miroir qui reflete en son calme dormant 
H6rodiade au clair regard de diamant . . . 

0 charme dernier, oui! je le sens, je suis seule. 

Des ondes 

Se bercent et, l&.-bas, sais-tu pas un pays 
Ob le sinistre del ait les regards hais 
De V^nus qui, le soir, brule dans le feuillage; 

J’y partirais. 

Mallarmd’s Herodias, like Flaubert’s Salammbd, is a 
hysterical woman steeped in hieratic indolence: she also, 
wasting away in the expectation of 'une chose inconnue’, 
can be imagined wandering in the silence of her vast 
apartments, or ecstatic in a corner, ‘tenant dans ses mains 
sa Jambe gauche replide, la bouche entr’ouverte, le menton 
baissd, I’oeil fixe’, tortured by ‘obsessions d’autant plus 
fortes qu’elles 6taient vagues’;24 she also is a devotee of the 



BYZANTIUM 305 

^ooiij and addresses her speech, as though to a sister, to 
the cold heavenly sphere which Salammbd had adored and 
prayed to as a Mother; in fact Herodias, too, is, like 
Salammb6, ‘un astre humain’ (‘Nourrice, suis-je belle ? — 
Un astre, en verit6’; "ma pudeur grelottante d’etoile*). 

6. Huysmans, speaking of the ejotic works of Felicien 
Rops, the artist who, together with Moreau, held the 
field among the Decadents, makes the following observa- 
tions 

‘Au fond . . . il n’y a de r&Ilement obscenes que les gens chastes. 

‘Tout le monde sait, en effet, que la continence engendre des 
pens^es libertines affreuses, que Thomme non chr^tien et par con- 
sequent involontairement pur, se surchaufFe dans la solitude surtout, 
et s’exalte et divague j alors, il va mentalement, dans son rfeve eveille, 
jusqu’au bout du delire orgiaque. 

‘li est done vraisemblable que I’artiste qui traite violemment des 
sujets charnels, est, pour une raison ou pour une autre, un homme 
chaste. 

‘Mais cette constatation ne semble pas sufEsante, car, k se scruter, 
I’on decouvre que, m6me en ne gardant pas une continence exacte, 
meme en etant repu, meme en ^prouvant un sincere degoQt des 
joies sensuelles, Ton est encore trouble par des id6es lascives. 

‘C’est alors qu’apparalt ce phenomene bizarre d’une ^me qui se 
suggere, sans dfeirs corporels, des visions lubriques. 

‘Impurs ou non, les artistes dont les nerfs sont elimfe jusqu’k 
se rompre, ont, plus que tous autres, constamment subi les insup- 
portables tracas de la Luxure. . • - Je parle exclusivement de TEsprit 
de Luxure, des idees 6rotiques isolees, sans correspondance mate- 
rielle, sans besoin d’une suite animale qui les apaise. 

‘Et presque toujours la scene r^v6e est identique: des images se 
levent, des nudit& se tendent; — mais, d’un saut. Facte naturel 
s’efface, comme d^nue d’int^r^t, comme trop court, comme ne 
provoquant qu’une commotion attendue, qu’un cri banal; — et, du 
coup, un ^lan vers Fextranaturel de la salauderie, une postulation 
vers les crises echappees de la chair, bondies dans Fau-delk des 
spasmes, se d^clarent. L’infamie de I’^me s’aggrave, si Fon veut, 
mais elle se raffine, s’anoblit par la pens^, qui s’y m61e, d’un id^al 
de fautes surhumaines, de p&h& que Fon voudrait neufe. 

‘A spiritualiser ainsi Fordure, une r&lle d^perdition de phosphore 
se produit dans la cervelle, et si, pendant cet etat inqui^tant de 
Fime qui se suggere k elle-m6me et pour elle seule, ces visions 
6chauff6es des sens, le hasard veut que la r©aUt6 s’en m61e, qu’une 



3o6 the romantic AGONY 

femme, en chair et en os, vienne, alors I’homme, excede de r^ve, 
reste embarrasse, devient presque frigide, ^prouve, dans tous les cas, 
apres une pollution reelle, une d&illusion, une tristesse atroces. 

‘Cette etrange attirance vers les complications charnelles, cette 
hantise de la saloperie pour la saloperie mfeme, ce rut qui se passe 
tout entier dans Tame et sans que le corps consult^ s’en m 61 e, 
cette impulsion livide et Smitee qui n’a, en somme, avec Tinstinct 
g6n&ique, que de lointains rapports, demeurent singulierement 
mysterieux quand on y songe. 

‘£rethisme du cerveau, dit la science. . . 

However Huysmans, who professed Catholicism (a kind 
of Catholicism to which I shall return shortly), recognized 
as the only satisfactory explanation that afforded by the 
Church, which sees a temptation of the Evil One in 
^delectatio morosa^ in mental onanism. 

‘En art, cette hysteric mentale ou cette ddectation morose devait 
forcement se traduire en des oeuvres et fixer les images qu’elle s’^tait 
cr^^es. Elle trouvait, Ik, en efFet, son exutoire spirituel. . . . C’est 
done k cet 6tat special de Time que Ton peut attribuer les hennisse- 
ments charnels, Merits ou peints, des vrais artistes,’ 

Of real artists } That may be doubted, but this is not 
the place to discuss it: our concern here is only to establish 
how the state of mind just described by Huysmans is 
fundamental in all the literature of the Decadence, be- 
ginning with the work of Huysmans himself. 

In a state of mind conditioned thus, sadism finds its 
natural soil: 

‘II serable, en efFet, que les maladies de nerfs, que les n^vroses 
ouvrent dans I’kme des fissures par lesquelles I’Esprit du Mai 
penfetre,’^® 

7. Sadism, however, as Huysmans himself also re- 
marks, is a ‘bastard of Catholicism ^.nd presupposes a 
religion to be violated: 

‘Cet etat si curieux et si mal defini ne peut, en efFet, prendre 
naissance dans I’kme d’un m&r6ant5 il ne consiste point seulement 
k se vautrer parmi les exces de la chair, aiguis& par de sanglantes 
sevices, car il ne serait plus alors qu’un ecart des sens g^n&iques, 
qu’un cas de satyriasis arrive k son point de maturity supreme 5 il 
consiste avant tout dans une pratique sacrilfege, dans une rebellion 
morale, dans une d^bauche spirituelle, dans une aberration toute 
id&le, toute chretiennej il r&ide aussi dans une joie temper^ par 



BYZANTIUM 307 

la crainte, dans une joie analogue k cette satisfaction mauvaise des 
enfents qui d&ob^issent et jouent avec des matiferes dtfendues, par 
ce seul motif que leurs parents leur en ont express6ment interdit 
I’approche . . . 

‘La force du sadisme, I’attrait qu’il presente ^t done tout entier 
dans la jouissance prohibee de transferer k Satan les hommages et 
les prieres qu’on doit Dieu; il gft doAc dans I’inobservance des 
preceptes catholiques qu’on suit mdme ^ rebours, en commettant, 
afin de bafouer plus gravement le Christ, les peches qu’il a le plus 
expressement maudits: la pollution du culte et I’orgie charnelle. 

‘Au fond, ce cas, auquel le marquis de Sade a legu^ son nom, 
etait aussi vieux que I’Eglise; il avait s^vi dans le xviii® siede, 
ramenant, pour ne pas remonter plus haut, par un simple pheno- 
mene d’atavisme, les pratiques impies du sabbat au moyen ige.’ 

Des Esseintes recognizes in the Witches’ Sabbath 
‘toutes les pratiques obsefenes et tous les blasphemes du 
sadisme’. 

^Sadism and Catholicism, in French Decadent literature, 
become the two poles between which the souls of neurotic 
and sensual writers oscillate, and which can definitely be 
traced back to that ‘epicurien i I’imagination catholique’*® 
— Chateaubriand. This phenomenon was noticed by, 
among others, Anatole France, apropos of Villiers de I’lsle- 
Adam;29 

‘Il etait de cette Amille de naj-catholiques litt^raires dont 
Chateaubriand est le pere commun, et qui a produit Barbey 
d’Aurevilly, Baudelaire, et, plus r&emment, M. Jos6phin Pdadan. 
Ceux-lh ont gofit6 par-dessus tout dans la religion les charmes du 
p6ch^ la grandeur du sacrilege, et leur sensualisme a caress6 les 
dogmes qui ajoutaient aux voluptfe la supreme volupt^ de se perdre.’ 

Anatole France’s list is not complete: 3f?uysmans,Wer- 
laineJIBarr^s, lAon Bloy,* and, more recently, Montherlant 
are other well-known examples ot this type of confused 
Christianity.^^ ^Dostoievsky offers an analogous case. 
Given the extremely equivocal basis on which the religion 
of such writers is founded, one may reasonably suspect 
that in them, even in its most seemingly innocent mani- 
festations, (this religion is merely a disguised form of 
/morbid satisfaction ; repentance may be nothing more than 
a mask for algolagnia. Such a suspicion comes into one’s 
mind, for instance, in the case of Verlaine’s prayerj^ ‘6 



3o8 the romantic AGONY 

mon Dieu, vous m^avez blesse d’amour/ And algolagnia 
is quite obvious in passages such as that of Huysmans on 
the Virgin of the Maitre de Flemalle at Frankfurt 
‘Cette Madone, si tendrement dolente, on peut lui prater 
toutes les angoisses, toutes les transes, &c.’* 

8. Huysmans^ analysis fits the chief exponents of 
French Decadence like a glove — beginning, as I have 
already said, with Huysmans himselfi Let us take a rapid 
glance at this portrait-gallery. Each of the persons repre- 
sented in it might well repeat the phrase which comes at 
the beginning of Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau \ ‘Mes 
pensees ce sont mes catins/ 

This is an original portrait of J.-K. Huysmans by Paul 
y Valery 

T1 etait le plus nerveux des hommes . . . grand cr&iteur de degouts, 
accueillant pour le pire et n’ayant soif que de Texcessif, credule 
^ un point incroyabIe,33 recevant aisement toutes les horreurs qui 
se peuvent imaginer chez les humains, friand de bizarreries et de 
Contes comme il s’en conterait chez une portiere de I’enfer; et 
d’ailleurs les mains pures. ... II ^manait de lui des reflets d’une 

erudition vou^e k Tetrange Ilflairait des salauderies, des malefices, 

des ignominies dans toutes les affaires de ce monde; et peut-etre 
avait-il raison. . . . Quand il se mit k la mystique, il joignit avec 
d^lices, sa minutieuse et complaisante connaissance des ordures 
visibles et des saletfe ponderables, une curiosite attentive, inventive 
et inquiete de Tordure surnaturelle et des immondices supra- 
sensibles. ... Ses narines etranges flairaient en fremissant ce qu’il y 
a de nauseabond dans le monde. L’^cceurant fumet des gargotes, 
Pacre encens frelate, les odeurs fades ou infectes des bouges et des 
asiles de nuit, tout ce qui r6voltait ses sens excitait son ginie. On 
eut dit que le degoutant et Phorrible dans tous les genres le con- 
traignissent k les observer, et que les abominations de toute espece 
eussent pour effet d’engendrer un artiste specialement fait pour les 
peindre dans un homme cr6€ specialement pour en souffrir. . . . L’6tat 
des choses pieuses et celui des esprits anxieux entre 1880 et 1900 
sont peints en partie et definis dans les trois principaux ouvrages 
d’Huysmans.’ 

Among these works, ji rebours (its very title implies a 
|)rogramme of sadistic constraint of nature) is the pivot 
upon which the whole psychology of the Decadent Move- 
ment turns; in it all the phenomena of this state of mind 



BYZANTIUM 309 

are illustrated down to the minutest details, in the instance 
of its chief character des Esseintes. ‘Tous les romans que 
j’ai Merits depuis A rehours sont contenus en germe dans 
ce livre’, Huysmans remarked. Not only his own novels, 
but all the prose works of the Decadence, from Lorrain to 
Gourmont, Wilde and D’Annunzio, are contained in em- 
bryo in A rehours. This book is so well known that a few 
remarks only may suffice here. 

Its descent from Baudelaire is obvious, beginning from 
the actual title : 

‘Appliquer k la joie, au se sentir vivre, I’id^e d’hyperacuite des 
sens, appUquee par Poe k la douleur. Operer une creation par la 
pure logique de contraire. Le sender est tout trac6, k rebours.’^* 

The taste of des Esseintes, who values works of art, 
precious stones, perfumes, flowers, food, &c., all at the 
same rate — as instruments of epicurean sensation — is in 
conformity with the most orthodox doctrines of Baude- 
laire: 

‘Que la po&ie se rattache aux arts de la peinture, de la cuisine 
et du cosmetique par la possibility d’exprimer toute sensation de 
suavity ou d’amertume, de byatitude ou d’horreur, par I’accouple- 
ment de tel substantif avec tel adjectif, analogue ou contraire. ’ 3 * 

Again, in his programme of systematic, erudite exploita- 
tion of all possible sensations, des Esseintes resembles 
Poe’s Usher 36 — ^an Usher who follows in the footsteps of 
Bouvard and Pecuchet, though in a tragic vein, whereas 
Flaubert had embarked upon the undertaking in the spirit 
of parody. 

Enthusiasm for monstrous flowers and tropical plants, 
kor contorted shapes, in fact for ‘Medusean’ beauty in its 
Imost paradoxical forms — all this was presented by Huys- 
mans with the minuteness of a Dutch still-life painter. 
But he did not make the discovery: the credit of that — if 
credit it deserves — ^belongs to Baudelaire and Flaubert. 
The same may be said of the enthusiasm for debased Latin, 
and in general of the attraction towards everything corrupt 
and impure, whether in men, in works of art, or in things. 
Even Zola, as early as 1866, had said:^? ‘Mon gout, si 
Ton veut, est deprav^. J’aime les ragohts littyraires 
fortement ypiefe, les oeuvres de dycadence ou une sorte de 



310 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

sensibility maladive remplace la santd plantureuse des 
epoques classiques.’ Huysmans liked the Latin of the De- 
aine because of its decayed flavour, he liked landscapes 
idistorted by brutal violence, the banlieue that seems as if it 
‘relive toujours d’un mal ^puisant qui la mine, et que son 
c6ty populaire s’atty^ue et s’effile dans une attitude 
alanguie, dans une mine dolente’.^® The most remarkable 
pages that he wrote on this theme are to be found in the 
essay on La Bievre (1898), in which, contemplating the 
contamination of the little river, befouled by industry, 
he sees the torture of the river-nymph, whose agony he 
describes with sadistic satisfaction. But the honour of 
having discovered the fascination of this particular 
faisande spot belongs to the Goncourts. In Manette Salo- 
mon (1867) the painter Crescent finds his inspiration in 
pie ‘rachitisme m^lancolique de ces prds rip^s et jaunis par 
place’.39 

Des Esseintes does not merely delight in sadistic fan- 
tasies, but, in the manner of La Philosophie dans le boudoir^ 
makes a timid attempt at militant sadism by initiating a 
poor young man into a mode of life which is bound to 
lead him to crime. 

In La-bas (1891) the author explores the darkest and 
most distant regions of satanism and sadism (‘les 1^-bas, si 
loin dans les vieux 4 ges!’),'+° and describes the life of a des 
Esseintes of the Middle Ages, the monster Gilles de Rais, 
and the modern Black Masses which recall the Witches’ 
^Sabbath.'+i It is possible that an interest in Joan of Arc’s 
Satanic contemporary was aroused in modern times not 
only by Sade, who mentions him several times, but also 
by Stendhal, who, in a correspondence from Nantes (in 
the Memoires dlun touriste)y*^ dwells upon the passion of 
this strange monster for liturgical ceremonial and sacred 
music (was it from this musical taste on the part of Gilles 
that Huysmans derived the idea of placing several of the 
scenes of his novel in the abode of a music-mad bell- 
ringer?’), and he more or less invites the writing of a Life 
of Gilles: 

‘Quels furent les motifs, quelles furent les nuances non seulement 
de ses actions atroces, mais de toutes les actions de sa vie qui ne 



BYZANTIUM 311 

furent pas incrimin^ ? Nous I’ignorons. Nous sommes done bien 
loin d’avoir un portrait veritable de cet tire extraordinaire, . . . C’est 
toujours un libertinage ardent mais qui ne peut s’assouvir qu’apres 
avoir brav6 toutce que les honunes respectent. . . . Toujours on le 
voit ob^ir k une imagination bizarre et singulierement puissante 
dans ses dcarts.’ 

The Life of Gilles was not writSen until 1886, by the 
Abbd Eugene Bossard and Rend de Maulde;++and it was 
•-from this that Huysmans got his information. Gilles de 
Rais was, apparently, also the forerunner of a particular 
kind of exoticism, if it is true, as one tradition has it, that 
he derived his impulse from the crimes of the Emperors 
as related by Suetonius; but this tradition seems un- 
warrantable.+s 

Parallel to the almost mythical character of Gilles de 
Rais, Huysmans presents a living woman who resembles 
him. Gilles is divided, as she is, into three distinct 
personalities : 

D’abord le soudard brave et pieux. 

Puis I’artiste raffind et criminel. 

Enfin, le pecheur qui se repent, le mystique. 

Hyacinthe is a diabolique.^ a younger sister of the per- 
verse and murderous women whom Huysmans had en- 
countered in the pages of Barbey d’Aurevilly. In moments 
of crisis her eyes become sulphurous, she has the mouth of 
-4 vampire, a will of iron : ‘J’ai ime volontd de fer, et je 
ploie ceux qui m’aiment.’'^* 

9. Barbey d’Aurevilly, another Holy Father of the 
Decadent Movement, is the connecting link between two 
generations, the ‘frdnetique’ of 1830 and the ‘decadent’ of 
1 880.+7 The following portrait is from the pen of Anatole 
France, and has a strong family likeness to that of 
Huysmans: 

‘II affirmait sa foi en toute rencontre, mais c’est par le blaspheme 
qu’il la confessait de preference. L’impidte chez lui semble un 
complement k la foi. Comme Baudelaire, il adorait le pdchd. Des 
passions il ne connut jamais que le masque et la grimace. II se 
rattrapait sur le sacrilege et jamais croyant n’olFensa Dieu avec tant 
dezele. N’en frissonnez pas. Ce grand blasphemateur sera sau vd. .. . 
Saint Pierre dira en le voyant: “Void M. Barbey d’Aurevilly. Il 



312 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

voulut avoir tous les vices, mais il n’a pas pu, parce que c’est trhs 
difficile et qu’il y faut des dispositions particulieres; il eut aim6 k se 
couvrir de crimes, parce que le crime est pittoresque; mais il resta 
le plus galant homme du monde, et sa vie fut quasi monastique. 
Il a dit parfois de vilaines choses, il est vrai; mais, comme il ne les 
croyait pas et qu’il ne les faisait croire ^ personne, ce ne fut jamais 
que de la litterature, et 4 f^iute est pardonnable. Chateaubriand 
qui, lui aussi, etait de notre parti, se moqua de nous dans sa vie 
beaucoup plus serieusement.” ’ 

Barbey also, then, provides an illustration to the old 
saying: ‘Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba’ — ^an old 
saying which, however, must be interpreted in the light 
of Huysmans’s explanations quoted above (§ 6). In point 
of voluptuous imagination des Esseintes classifies Barbey 
immediately below the Marquis de Sade:^^ 

‘S’il n’allait pas aussi loin que de Sade, en proferant d’atroces 
maledictions contre le Sauveur; si, plus prudent ou plus craintif, 
il pretendait toujours honorer Pfiglise, il n’en adressait pas moins, 
comme au moyen ige, ses postulations au Diable et il glissait, lui 
aussi, afin d’affronter Dieu, k Perotomanie demoniaque, forgeant 
des monstruosites sensuelles, empruntant mSme k la Philosophie dans 
le boudoir un certain episode qu’il assaisonnait de nouveaux condi- 
ments, lorsqu’il ecrivait ce conte: le Diner d'*un athee. [r/c] 

, Ce volume [Les Diaholiques'] etait, parmi toutes les oeuvres 
de la litterature apostolique contemporaine, le seul qui temoignl.t de 
cette situation d’esprit tout k la fois devote et impie, vers laquelle 
les revenez-y du catholicisme, stimuies par les acces de la nevrose, 
avaient souvent pousse des Esseintes.’ 

D’Aurevilly’s preface to the Diaholiques is curious : 

‘L’auteur de ceci, qui croit au Diable et k ses influences dans 
le monde, n’en rit pas, et il ne les raconte aux ames pures que pour 
les en epouvanter.’ 

It is the usual moral excuse of all licentious writers, 
from Marino onwards. The moral is attached to the fable 
in the opposite way to that enunciated in Tasso’s lines 
{Jerusalem Delivered^ c. i, st. 3): the ‘sweet liquor’ is 
actually contained within the vessel and the brim is 
smeared with wormwood for the sake of decency. 

Pleasure and horror are closely intertwined throughout 
the six stories. In the first {Le Rideau cramoisi) a young 
woman with ‘the forehead of a Nero’ takes a horrible 



BYZANTIUM 313 

pleasure in going every night stealthily through the room 
in which her parents sleep to her lover’s room: one night 
the emotion is so strong that she dies of it. The title of 
the third story, Le Bonheur dans le crimes has an obviously 
sadistic sound. The women described by d’Aurevilly have 
something of the wild beast in them; the stronger sex, as 
so often in writers of this period, is really the weaker. The 
man, in Le Bonheur dans le crime, even goes so far as to 
wear ear-rings, while the woman, dressed in black: 

‘Aisait penser Si la grande Isis noire du Musee figyptien, par I’am- 
pleur de ses formes, la fiertd mysterieuse et la force. Chose dtrange! 
dans le rapprochement de ce beau couple, c’dtait la femme qui avait 
les muscles, et I’homme qui avait les nerfe. . . 

The woman’s eyes are green (‘les deux ^toiles vertes de 
ses regards’), as is usual in such cases (the eyes of sadistic 
characters in popular Romantic literature are, as a rule, 
green). When put face to face with a panther, the 
‘panthere humaine’ (i.e. the woman) magnetizes the 
‘panthere animale’. The story of this handsome couple 
discloses a poisoning perpetrated in romantic circum- 
stances upon the wife of the man with the ear-rings. 

In Le Dessous de cartes dlunepartie de whist ih.t company 
is even more sinister. A mother who poisons her sons for 
the pleasure of sadistic pollution, a nondescript Scotsman 
who dabbles in Indian poisons. . . . The woman has green 
eyes (‘la comtesse portait le sinople, dtincel6 d’or, dans 
son regard comme dans ses armes’; ‘ces deux emeraudes, 
strides de jaune, . . . dtaient aussi froides que si on les 
avait retirees du ventre et du frai du poisson de Poly- 
crate’; ‘ce regard d’ondine, glauque et moqueur’). Her 
hands ‘ressemblaient k des griffes fabuleuses, comme 
I’dtonnante podsie des Anciens en attribuait a certains 
monstres au visage et au sein de femme’. The man is ‘du 
pays ou se passe la sublime histoire de Walter Scott, cette 
rdalitd du Pirate que Marmor allait reprendre en sous- 
oeuvre, avec des variantes, dans une petite ville ignorde des 
cdtes de la Manche’. Again, the ear-rings of the man in 
Le Bonheur dans le crime make the narrator think of the 
emerald ear-rings of Jean Sbogar. It is a case, therefore, 
of belated descendants of the Byronic hero, but dominated 



314 the romantic AGONY 

by the woman whom their original ancestor at the be- 
ginning of the century was accustomed to subjugate. The 
(Woman is athirst for mystery, for the impossible, for 
idarkness : 


‘Mais, quand on y pense, ne comprend-on pas que leurs sensations 
aient r&llement la profondeur enflanunfe de I’enfer? Or I’enfer 
c’est le ciel en creux. Ce mot diabolique ou divin, appliqu^ 
I’intensite des jouissances, exprime la mSme chose, c’est-k-dire des 
sensations qui vont jusqu’au sumaturel.’ 

In this story there is a poisoned ring, in the next, A un 
Diner d'athies (the atheists show off to the fullest meaning 
of the term: ‘ils crach^rent en haut leur 4me contre Dieu’) 
there is a certain Major Ydow who looks like one of the 
busts of Antinous — ^the one in which, through the caprice 
or the bad taste of the sculptor (says d’Aurevilly), two 
emeralds are set in the marble of the eyeballs. This detail, 
too, became later a cliche of popular Romanticism: 
Antinous and the emeralds are to be found, for instance, in 
Lorrain’s Monsieur de Phocas. The woman in A un Diner 
d'athies is ‘la plus fascinante cristallisation de tous les 
vices’ that has ever existed. She belongs to the family of 
Carmen.5° The culminating point of the story is the 
profanation of a child’s dead body by its parents, the 
sealing up, with burning wax, of the pudenda of Rosalba 
la Pudica, and the killing of the man who perpetrated such 
abominations. 


In the last of the stories. La Vengeance d'une femmey the 
wife of a Spanish grandee avenges herself on her husband 
by dragging his name in the dirt and exercising so little 
control of her own passions that she dies a horrible death 
in the SalpStriere. This ‘diabolique’ is of Italian origin — 
Turre-Cremata, of the family of the Inquisitor Torque- 
mada, who however ‘a inflig<J moins de supplices, pendant 
toute sa vie, qu’il n’y en a dans ce sein maudit’. The 
heroine of Le Dessous de carteSy also, is proclaimed as being, 
for her crimes, ‘digne de I’ltalie du seizifeme sifecle’. As 
can be seen, the ancignLspectrejpf the Italian Renaissance, 
which had exerted so strong an attraction on the Eliza- 
bethan dramatists and the earliest of the Romantics (‘cette 


j^tale et criminelle Italic’, said Hugo’s Lucrezia Borgia), 



BYZANTIUM 315 

continues to provide material for Romanticism in its 
latest period. 

10. The third portrait in the gallery of the Decadents 
is that of Villiers de I’lsle-Adam. He also was a Catholic — 
or so he liked to proclaim himself — ^with a devotion con- 
siderably tempered with impiety, and he also was attracted 
by sexual monstrosities and sadistic horrors, and moved 
'about amongst men like a somnambulist, ‘ne voyant rien 
de ce que nous voyons et voyant ce qu’il ne nous est pas 
permis de voir’s^ — a kind of visionary of the pavement, 
upheld only by the cheap wit of his luxurious, cruel fan- 
tasies. Though prompt to object to foreign manifestations 
of sadism,53 he cultivated a domestic ‘jardin des supplices’ 
where he grafted the metaphysical American vines of 
Edgar Allan Poe on to the worn-out stumps of French 
Romanticism. 

This combination of Poe’s speculative ingenuity with 
frenzied French Romanticism led Villiers to complicated 
inventions such as Claire Lenoir {Revue des Lettres et des 
Arts, October 1867; it appeared again in 1887 with the 
title of Tribulat Bonhomet), a story which turned upon a 
straightforward adultery, but concluded with a spectacle 
of horror such as would out-Poe Poe even at his most un- 
bridled: Bonhomet, introducing monstrous probes into 
the eyes of the dead Claire, sees there, distinctly reflected 
as though in a photographic plate, a picture of her husband 
(re-incarnated as a vampire in the form of a Polynesian 
pirate, an ‘Ottysor-vampire’) in the act of brandishing the 
severed head of her lover and accompanying the gesture 
with an inaudible war-song IS'^ 

The Contes cruels, as a whole, show an exploitation of the 
same themes as were treated by Petrus Borel in the Contes 
immoraux. A leprous Englishman ; a German baron with 
a passion for playing the executioner jss a French queen. 
Queen Ysabeau, who punishes her lover by putting him in 
the position of being accused of a crime he has not com- 
mitted, and then rejoicing at his terror when she tells him, 
holding him in her arms, of the trick she has played him; 
Torquemada, who orders two lovers to be bound together 
for forty-eight hours, so that they ‘ne s’embrasserent 



3i6 the romantic AGONY 

jamais plus— de peur . . . de peur que cela ne recom- 
men^at’; a cruel Chinese sovereign who threatens a bold 
young man with a terrible form of torture (one of the 
tortures upon which, later, Mirbeau dwells so minutely); 
Queen Afedyssdril, who commands that the death of a 
yovmg royal couple who were an obstacle to her plans 
should take place at'^the moment when they are tasting 
supreme happiness — all these characters occupy, as it 
were, a new wing in the museum of fearful wax figures 
v/inaugurated by the Romantics about 1830. But the 
different tone of this period is clearly shown in a story such 
as Vera^ which deals with a sepulchral subject in the 
manner of Poe:*® 

‘Les deux amants s’ensevelirent dans I’ocdan de ces joies lan- 
guides et perverses oti I’esprit se m61e k la chair mystdrieuse! Ils 
ipuisferent la violence des desirs, les frdmissements et les tendresses 
eperdues. Ils devinrent le battement de I’^tre I’un de I’autre. En 
eux, I’esprit pdndtrait si bien le corps, que leurs formes leur sem- 
bkient intellectuelles, et que les baisers, mailles brulantes, les en- 
chatnaient dans une fiision iddale.’ 

Under the influence of Poe’s tales, lust strives to become 
intellectualized, the concrete operations of the flesh are 
blended with decorous abstractions, human loves tend 
towards the impossibilities of angelic embraces. Magic 
and pseudo-mysticism a la Parsifal become so many 
spices which are used to give a new taste to the well-known 
east of the senses. 

II. A comic-heroic treatment (heroic in intention, 
:omic in effect) of the subject-matter which constitutes, 
nore or less, the common background of the whole of 
Decadent literature, is to be foimd in Josdphin Pdadan, 
who is the subject of the fourth portrait in our gallery. 
It is hard to remain serious in front of this picture. Sar 
M^rodack j[. Pdladan (in giving a magic sound to his name 
this eccentric author was thinking of Merodach-baladan, 
King of Babylon, Isaiah, xxxix) is a figure with a mass of 
beard and long hair, draped in an old blanket which comes 
right down to his feet. One gets the impression of a per- 
formance of a cheap and homely charade, writh the 
hearthrug to give a touch of Oriental local colour, the 



BYZANTIUM 317 

aunt’s blouse used as a surplice, and a little perfumed 
paper burning, to tickle the nostrils of the spirits of Earth 
and Air, as personified by the cat and the pet parrot. 
Among the various objects scraped together for this farce 
Pdladan has also placed the crucifix taken down from the 
head of the bed, forgetting the proyijrb ‘Scherza coi fanti 
e lascia stare i santi’. 

‘Barbey D’Aurevilly fut un catholique trcs compromettant. 
M. Jos^phin Peladan est plus dangereux encore pour ceux qu’il 
defend. Peut-Stre blasphfeme-t-il moins que le vieux docteur des 
DiaboliqueSy car le blaspheme ^tait pour celui-lk Facte de foi par 
excellence. Mais il est encore plus sensuel et plus orgueilleux. II 
a plus encore le gout du pdch6. Ajoutez k cela qu’il est platonicien 
et mage, qu’il m^e constamment le grimoire a I’Evangile, qu’il est 
hante par I’id^e de I’hermaphrodite qui inspire tous ses livres; et 
qu’il croit sincbrement mdriter le chapeau de cardinal!’ 

Thus Anatole France,*’ who, nevertheless, gave P^la- 
dan the credit of being an artist — ^mad, to any extent, but 
still an artist. However fantastic and absurd it may sound, 
Pdladan devoted himself very seriously to the practice of 
magic. In 1888, together with the Marquis Stanislas de 
Guaita and Oswald Wirth, he founded the ‘Ordre Kab- 
balistique de la Rose-Croix’, which had among its chief 
objects that of ruining the practitioners of Black Magic 
and of revealing la th^ologie chrdtienne les magnifi- 
cences dsot^riques dont elle est grosse ^ son insu’. Various 
literary men in the public eye, such as Paul Adam, 
Laurent Tailhade and the poet Edouard Dubus, joined 
the circle of the Rose-Croix. 

Though the supernatural effects of these occult prac- 
tices may be wrapt in mystery, there is no doubt about 
their natural effects: Dubus went mad, and Guaita died 
young, at the age of thirty.* 8 The book by Bricaud*® 
should be consxilted on the subject of these Rosicrucian 
clubs and their relations with the practitioners of Black 
Magic, as described in ha-bas. 

In the preface to Vice suprSme (1884), the first 
volume of L,a Decadence latine^ ethopeey Barbey d’Aurevilly 
says of Peladan : 

‘Je ne sache personne qui ait attaqu6 d’un pinceau plus ferme 



31 8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

et plus r&olu ces corruptions qui plaisent parfois k ceux qui les 
peignent ou qui 6pouvantent I’innocente pusillanimity de ceux qui 
craignent les admirer. ... II peint le vice bravement, comme s’il 
I’aimait et il ne le peint que pour le flytrir et pour le maudire. II 
le peint sans rien lui &ter de ses fescinations, de ses ensorcellements, 
de ses envodtements, de tout ce qui fiiit sa toute-puissance sur I’kme 
humaine, et il en feit coii:prendre le charme infernal avec la mfeme 
passion d’artiste intense que si ce charme ytait cyieste!’ 

Pyladan’s work — pompously called by the author him- 
self ‘L’CEuvre Pyiadane' — ^although of vei^ slight artistic 
interest (though D’Annunzio, who, as is well known, 
borrowed phrases and subjects from it, found it interest- 
ing)^ and, in any case, very little read in France,* never- 
theless provides, as often happens with the work of lesser 
writers, composed, as it is, of cliches and commonplaces, 
an interesting account of Decadent circles and of the taste 
of the period. 

The author himself figures among the characters of the 
‘ythopde’: he is Mdrodack, the magician who has read 
‘toute la littyrature de la chair — de Martial a Meursius et 
k de Sade’, since his method is to ‘se cryer une obsession 
de ce qu’il voulait vaincre’. Myrodack is ‘d’une continence 
monstrueuse’. He is, in fact, the usual case of the chaste 
man besieged by lecherous fantasies, a prey to mental 
erethism. 

The chief obsession of Pyiadan, as Anatole France 
observes, is the Hermaphrodite. This subject had already 
been dallied with by Latouche in his undeservedly famous 
Fragoletta (1829); by Balzac {Serafhita^ La Fille aux yeux 
d'or)\ and more particularly by Gautier,* who went into 
ycstasies over the classic marble statue of the Herm aphro- 
jdite: 

‘C’est . . une des plus suaves cryations du gynie paien que ce 
fils d’Hermes et d’ Aphrodite. . . . Le torse est un composy des mon- 
struositys les plus charmantes: sur la poitrine poteiye et pleine de 
ryphfebe s’arrondit avec une grkce ytrange la gorge d’une jeune 
vierge. . . .’ 

This is from Mademoiselle de Maufixy that apolo^a of 
Lesbian love which Sainte-Beuve called one of the ‘Biblss 
Jof Romanticism’, and which was certainly the Bible of 



BYZANTIUM ^ji9 

'the Decadence, (Swinburne called it "holy writ of Beauty".) 
And in Emaux et camees {Contralto^ he says: 

Est-ce un jeune homme? Est-ce une femme? 

Une deesse ou bien un dieu? 

L’amour, ayant peur d’etre inf^me, 

H^ite et suspend son aveu. . . . 

Pour faire sa beaute maudite,'^ 

Chaque sexe apporta son don. . . . 

Chimere ardente, effort supreme 
De Part et de la volupt^ 

Monstre charmant, comme je t’aime 
Avec ta multiple beaute! . 

R6ve de poke et d’artiste, 

Tu m’as bien des nuits occupe, 

Et mon caprice qui persiste 
Ne convient pas qu’il s’est trompe. . . 

Baudelaire also (JLes Bijoux) i 

Je croyais voir unis par un nouveau dessin 
Les hanches de I’Antiope au buste d’un imberbe, 

Tant sa taille faisait ressortir son bassin. 

Lesbian love was celebrated by Baudelaire not only in 
Leshos and Femmes damneeSy but was actually intended to 
furnish the title for the collected edition of his poems — Les 
Leshiennes — ^as the announcement on the cover of Salon 
de 1846 shows. It moved Swinburne to write Anactoria 
and Lesbia BrandoXy and Verlaine wrote some lines on the 
subject which are worthy of the licentious paintings of 
Fragonard ("L’une , avait quinze ans, Fautre en avait 
seize , • "Tendre, la jeune femme rousse . . F); 
Beardsley and Conder illustrated Balzac’s La Fille aux 
yeux d^orJ^^ 

During the years just after 1830, thanks especially to 
George Sand, the vice of Lesbiamsjn became extremely 
popular 

‘En ce temps-I^ [relates Arsine Houssaye®^] S^ho ressuscita 
dans Paris, ne sachant pas Si elle aimait Phaon ou Erinne. Pour- 
quoi ne pas le dire? Ce fut des hautes regions de l^intelligence que 
descendirent les voluptfe inavouies.’ 

In the Paris of the Jin de siecle there were certain haunts 



320 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

of Lesbians which attracted artists, particularly the ‘Rat 

Mort’, a restaurant in the Place Pigalle ; 

“The Rat Mort by night had a somewhat doubtful reputation 
[says Rothenstein],®'* but during the day was frequented by painters 
and poets. As a matter of feet it was a notorious centre of Lesbian- 
ism This gave the Rat Mort an additional attraction to Conder 

and Lautrec.’ 

In the occult circles of which Pdladan was magna pan 
the figure of the Androgyne possessed a recondite signifi- 
cance into which it is not necessary to enter here. It was 
this fact which enabled Guaita to say of Pdadan’s 
Curieme'S^'^ 

^Curieuse feit songer k Siraphitus-Siraphitay mais ce mystere 
que Balzac balbutiait d’intuition, M. P61adan le formule avec la 
hardiesse et I’autorit^ sereine de celui qui sait, non plus avec le 
fidvreux entrainement de celui qui devine.’ 

Part of the seventh treatise in Pdladan’s Amphitheatre des 
sciences mortes expounds the theory of the Androgyne under 
the title of Erotologie de Platoni here the female androgyne 
is defined as Martha and Mary in one, combining the 
active with the contemplative faculty, a perfect fusion of 
intelligence and voluptuousness. Pdladan recognizes thaf-y 
‘the number of women who feel themselves to be men 
grows daily, and the masculine instinct leads them to 
violent actions, in the same proportion as that in which the 
number of men who feel themselves to be women abdicate 
their sex and, becoming passive, pass virtually on to a 
negative plane’. 

The Androgyne is the artistic sex. par excellence, realized 
in the creations of Leonardo : 

‘Leonard a trouv4 le canon de Polydfete, qui s’appelle I’andro- 
gyne. . . . L’androgyne est le sexe artistique par excellence, il confond 
les deux principes, le feminin et le masculin, et les dquilibre Pun 
par I’autre. Toute figure exclusivement masculine manque de 
grice, toute autre exclusivement feminine, manque de force. 

‘Dans la yocmde, I’autorit^ c6r€brale de I’homme de g6nie se con- 
fond avec la volupt^ de la gentille femme, e’est de I’androgynisme 
moral 

‘Dans le Saint~Jean la mixture des formes est telle, que le sexe 
devient une dnigme. . . . 



BYZANTIUM $21 

‘Le r&lisateur de T^phebe, de Padolescent a trouve le clair- 
obscur. . . . 

‘Le Saint-^Jean du Louvre manifeste ce precede dans sa pleni- 
tude: mais au lieu d’un clair-obscur physique, exterieur, d’un jeu de 
lumiere et d’ombre, Leonard decouvrit le clair-obscur animique.’^ 

The women of Peladan's novels are generally of the 
androgynous type. A few examples^will suffice, for variety 
of type is not the strong point of this mystagogic novelist. 
The Princess d’Este {Le Vice sufrimef^ is of an *^phdbisme 
k la Primatice" 

‘On dirait I’Anadyomene de ces primitife qui, d’un pinceau 
encore mystique, s’essayent au paganisme renaissant, un Botticelli 
oh la sainte d&habillee en nymphe garde de la gaucherie dans la 
perversite d’une plastique de stupre.’ ^ 

In another passage a perverse interpretation of Primi-;:; 
tive painting, in which Pdladan emulates Huysmans,^^ 
supplies the terms of comparison : 

‘Un ange de missel d^vetu en vierge folk par un imagier pervers; 

telle semblait Leonora Sur sa poitrine plate, les seins petite mais 

precis s’attachaient brusquement, sans transition de modek, distants 
et aigus. La ligne de la taille se renflait peu aux hanches, se per- 
dant dans les jambes trop longues d’une Eve de Lucas de Leyde. 
Lklancement des lignes, la tenuik des attaches, la longueur etroite 
des extremit&j le regne des verticales immaterialisaient sa chair 
d6jk irreelle de ton: on eCtt dit une de ces saintes que le burin de 
Schongauer denude pour le martyre; mais les yeux verte^® au regard 
ambigu, la bouche grande au sourire inquietant, les cheveux aux 
flavescences de vieil or, toute la tSte dementait la mystieik du corps.’ 

These are the ancestors of the Princess d^Este, 
criminals and weaklings : 

‘Les fils d’Obizzon 6tranglerent leur frere qui le m^ritait. Al- 
berto fit bruler vive sa femme et tenailler Jean d’Este. Nicolas III 
d^capita sa femme Parisina pour inceste avec son propre bl.tard 
Hugues. Ce m^me Nicolas III eut vingt-six bitards. Hercule 
coupa les poignets et creva les yeux k deux cents de ses ennemis. 
Le cardinal Hippolyte fit arracher les yeux ^ son frhre en sa pre- 
sence. Alphonse fut le bourreau du Tasse Tous les vices, tous 

les crimes, voilh vos anc6tres. 

^ The Princess is a ‘diabolique', a hobgoblin: 

‘Les oeuvres d’art oil la femme triomphe de Phomme I’attiraicnt 


Y 



322 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

invinciblement A Pitti, k la Lo^ia, la Judith d’Allori* et celle de 
Bandinelli I’arrStaient ^ns une contemplation souriante et re- 
fldchie.’ 

The type of man that this woman desires is, naturally, 
Antinous : 

‘Sa sid^rale nudit6 rayonne; ses pectoraux semblent lumineux 
et la princesse, dans son liallucination volontaire, prSte ce discours 
k I’affranchi d’Hadrien: 

‘ “Princesse, tu es belle comme je suis beau. Ne crois pas aux 
calomnies de Phistoire. L’empereur brftla de feux inutiles. Je suis 
vierge, je le suis rest^ pour toi dont le front haut comme celui de 
Minerve contient la pens^e.” ’ 

The roles are inverted. P^ladan never tires of insisting 
upon Lesbian and androgynous themes throughout the 
whole of his montunental ‘^thop^e’ ; and any one who has 
the desire and the patience may gather in this work a very 
abundant crop of more or less monstrous flowers of evil. 
In Typhonia (1892), for example, the ’Journal d' une vierge 
frotestante is a story of Lesbian loves, and the love-aflfair 
of Nebo with the Princess Riazan, in Curieuse, is also 
characteristic. 

The Princess Riazan is a Russian. For in 1886 — the 
year in which Curieuse was published — ^the Russian novel 
j^e first French translation of Dostoievsky came out in 
A 8 84) was making its triumphal entry into the French 
intellectual salons^ thanks to the book by E. M. de Vogii^ 
(Le Roman ru$se\ in which some saw the beginning of a 
^.eo-mystical era. The Vicomte de Vogii6 was saluted as 
‘the Chateaubriand of a new religious Renaissance’. Light 
had come from the East, and Plladan hastened to modify 
the plan of his Twilight of the Gods. ‘Oh^! ! 1 Oh^! ! ! 
les races latinesl’ — ^the magician M^rodack had ex- 
claimed at the end of the first volume, Le Vice suprtme^ 
when present at a performance of an opera dealing with a 
Lesbian subject, orchestrated in the Wagnerian manner, 
and with scenery imitating the pictures of Gustave Moreau. 
In A cceur perdu (1888) Plladan sees salvation for Eiirope 
in the westernization of Russia: 

‘EUe fiit divine cette com^e latine! Voilk les slaves en scbnej 
mais on ne succ^e ni aux ladns, ni aux grecs, ni aux jui&; on 



BYZANTIUM 323 

les continue, si I’on est de taille k faire suite k ces g&nts de gloire. 
L’osuvre politico-dconomique de I’Occident reste russe. Cependant, 
cet aigle pour deux t€tes n’a qu’une seule couronne; il recevra 
I’autre au double gironnement romain et latin. Tout I’avenir de la 
civilisation est suspendu aux levres de la femme slave. Aura-t-elle 
le baiser intelligent? 

‘La slave latinisde est deux fois femme; seule, elle se donne 
absolument dbs qu’elle aime, et ne recuTera jamais devant les con- 
sequences, mSme tragiques; veritable fille de Shakespeare, qu’un 
sang plus vermeil et des nerfe de fauve font redoutable autant 
qu’enivrante. Si I’androgyne pouvait etre frequent, ce serait parmi 
les Polonaises et les Russes.’ 

As for the Princess Paule Riazan, she is sufficiently 
westernized to resemble one of Gustave Moreau’s 
figures. Like these, she is a collection of fragments 
selected from the Old Masters; she is built a la 
Mantegna; ‘Pastorino de Sienne efrt mddailld ce profil 
volontaire, apparent^ avec celui de Salaino, I’dphebe lom- 
bard’. Her breast, however, is worthy of a sphinx by 
Rops, it is ‘une gorge aigue’. She has masculine char- 
acteristics, ‘jarret dur, mollet ferme, toutes les virilitds 
compatibles avec la grtce*. She is obsessed by the ideal 
which is incarnate in Mademoiselle de Maupin. 

Nebo, Mdrodack’s disciple, a painter-aesthete with 
whom the Princess is in love, is, on the other hand, 
feminine. ‘Sous le frac on devinait que ses seize ans 
avaient ^te apolloniens et des fdmininitds de corps, cho- 
quantes chez un homme.’ In painting, Nebo is a disciple 
of Moreau: 

‘Ce n’dtaient que des membres Isolds, les torses des lilies de 
la les jamb« frdles et nerveuses de Mantegna; des mains 

stupdfiantes de race, des bras d’une maigreur restde forte; des em- 
bonpoints sveltes; et tout cela modeld avec une telle preoccupation 
androgyne que la princesse rougit.’ 

We shall not stop here to follow this couple in their 
explorations of the ‘enfer Parisien’, after the style of the 
Mysth'es de Paris., nor in their gradual coming together 
{IJ Initiation sentimentale, 1887), but will pause a moment 
at A cceur -perdu, which tells of the seduction of Nebo as 
undertaken by Paule: 

‘Rdsistant au ddsir de la femme au lieu de le provoquer, Nebo 



324 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

inversait les r61es et pr6voyait que la jeune fiUe, en sa quality 
d’androgyne, oserait comme un homme, puisqu’il se d^robait com- 
me une femme. Ce phdnombne fiit aide par la mise de Nebo, mise 

f&ninine qui dotait de mMet6 le d&ir de la princesse II se &isait 

feire la cour et d&irer comme une coquette et son but, cependant, 
^it de retarder la sexualisation.’ 

For another quality *n Pdadan is contemplative sensu- 
ality. When the moment arrives, Nebo stages his sur- 
render with all the would-be Oriental luxury of a picture 
by Moreau. He begins by steeping his own body in 
balsams, and arranges to yield himself in accordance with 
an elaborate ritual. The woman must be dressed in an 
armour of jewels — ^artificial jewels — like a Salome by 
Moreau, only even better: 

‘Ce n’^tait pas le vStement d’orfevrerie que Gustave Moreau 
a donn^ k ses figures mythiques; id, la monture de pierres ne se 
voyait pas; c’6taient, non des bijoux, des foyers lumineux de toutes 
couleurs, harmonieusement disposes.’ 

Nebo's studio, transformed for the occasion, is lit by 
dazzling copper lamps, and filled with perfume from a 
tripod in which scented substances burn. Hebrew- 
Phoenician phallic symbols are painted on the walls, to 
bear witness to ‘cet amer souci de la ndcessitd phallique’. 
Nebo wears a Chaldean tiara and, swinging a censer, ap- 
proaches Paule who is dressed as an idol; when she feels 
her nostrils titillated by the incense, the Russian woman 
imagines herself ‘la grande Istar, FAphrodite de Kaldde’. 

Canticles form an accompaniment to the gestures of the 
ritual, canticles extremely similar to those written later by 
Remy de Gourmont (m Le Pkkrin du silence). Finally 
Nebo tears asunder the purple curtain concealing the 
nuptial couch, which is composed of the petals of roses 
and lilies mixed with daphne and myrtle. 

‘EUe le ceintuia de ses bras et avec une force de fomme ^nervde, 
elle I’enleva de terre, I’afeissa sur elle, I’^treignant comme si elle 
efit 6t6 le mMe et qu’elle violit. . . . Un cri fot-il ^uffd ? ce fut pres- 

? ue insaisissable; les fiammes des tr^ieds 6taient pres de s’^teindre. 
) I’analyse des contraires; aux boudoirs et aux chambres de torture, 
grdsille m^ement un effluve charnel et ilotte une odeur de peau 
6mue; I’appareil de la voluptd et son Emanation voisinent incroyable- 



BYZANTIUM 335 

ment celui des supplices et leur exhalaison. Serait-ce que nous 
sonmies dupes d’une categorisation traditionnelle, et suggestionnes 
par nos predecesseurs de determiner les sensations en agreables et 
douloureuses comme si une sainte possed^e par Antinoiis ne souf- 
frirait pas plus qu’k I’empalement d’un epieu rougi ?’ 

This remark takes one back to Baudelaire and Sade. 
But alas ! the sexual drama so cunnihgly arranged by Nebo 
ends in a fiasco. In the silence is heard the voice of a 
woman, deluded, almost ironical: ‘0 pontife, c’est tout ce 
que t’inspire ton idole ?’ 

‘L’androgyne expliqu^ par I’impuissance, et la vertu, effet de 
debility ! . . . impuissant, ou du moins insufiisant’ 

Pdladan saw quite correctly in this, but his lascivious 
imagination cannot resign itself to the pathetic truth, and 
for the nights which follow he prepares unspeakable joys 
and angelic loves for the youthful couple with the Leonardo 
smile (‘le sourire de Leonard, le divin sourire de I’intelli- 
gence plissa leur bouche’): 

‘ “Vivants, ces Joconde et ces Saint-Jean s’aimeraient comme 
nous nous aimons! . . . c’est-k-dire d’une allure de sphinx k chimbre 
et de sainte Ji archange, avec une douceur d’6ternitd dans la resorp- 
tion du d&ir inapaisable.” ’ 

Pdladan’s work is a veritable encyclopedia of the taste 
of the Decadents — ^Pre-Raphaelitism, the Primitives, the 
Leonardo smile, Gustave Moreau, Fdlicien Rops, the 
Russian novel, the music of Wagner . . , and it is all per- 
meated by his ineffectual sexual obsession, by his Hymn 
to the Androgyne (in U Androgyne, 1891, a novel the con- 
tent of which is defined by the author as a ‘restitution 
d’impressions ephebiques grecques k travers la mysticitd 
catholique’): 

‘£ros intangible, £ros uranien, pour les hommes grossiers des 
dpoques morales tu n’es plus qu’un p6ch6 infilme; on t’appelle 
Sodome, celeste contempteur de toute voluptd. C’est le besoin des 
siecles hypocrites d’accuser la Beaute, cette lumibre vive, de la 
tdnebre aux coeurs vils contenue. Garde ton masque monstrueux 
qui te ddfend du profime! Los h toil . . . 

‘Anges de Signorelli, S. Jean de L^nard . . , vrais anges du vrai 
del, brBlants Sdraphs et Kerubs abstracteurs, tenants des tr6nes de 
lavhd. Seigneurie et essence Ddforme! — Prince du Septenaire, 



326 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

qui tour Si tour commandes et obeis. 0 sexe initial, sexe d^iinitif, 
absolu de I’amour, absolu de la forme, sexe qui nies le sexe, sexe 
d’6ternit6! Los k toi. Androgyne.* 

Samas, the hero of this novel, 

V6tonne que I’amour ne se greffe pas sur I’attrait subi, et cet 
esdavage de la chair si doux ne le pousse pas au d6sir de poss6der. . . . 
II n’est charmd que par le rpsn-acte, le demi-rSve de ses impressions.’ 

The last novel of the ‘^thopde’. La Verm supreme 
deserves mention not for its customary parade of sexual 
monstrosities (there is even a regiment or Lesbians called 
the ‘Royal-Maupin’, and the inevitable English sadist), 
but for its curious ethical-religious ideology. Tammuz 
makes use of love instead of the dagger, ‘ayant de beaux 
jeunes hommes et de captivantes femmes a lancer comme 
des faucons sur les ennemis du Vrai, du Beau et du Juste’. 
Sacred prostitutes are employed to bring back the vicious 
to the path of virtue. For instance Davfeze, ‘le poke 
dkicat et tendre . . . le Watteau litt^raire’ (an obvious por- 
trait of Verlaine) ‘est, hdas, un sodomite’. The lovely Bdlit 
tries to normalize ‘pauvre Ldian’, but still cannot succeed 
4n overcoming her own repulsion : Daveze ‘paraissait in- 
sauvable’. A priest threatens to throw aside his habit to 
marry a Protestant woman. To avoid such a scandal the 
solution is to give him ‘une maitresse intelligente, le 
soulageant de sa sexuality, le gavant de luxure; d6gris^, il 
resterait k I’Eglise et k sa mission’. The idea of a similar 
/utilization of vice for humanitarian purposes goes back to 
3ue,72 and actually, side by side with aestheticism, Pdadan 
cherished an equally strong passion for the ‘thriller’ : hence 
I his dream of a secret society with an aesthetic ceremonial.^s 

The crowning moment of the novel is a replica of 
Parsifal. Mkodack journeys on a pilgrimage to the Abbey 
of Monts6gur, which is dedicated to the cult of the Rosi- 
crucians — z. copy of Monsalvat with aesthetic refinements, 
Flemish tapestries. Renaissance seats . . . but the Grand 
Cross of the Great Rose is made of artificial rubies, and in 
its centre, to hold the Host, is a chemical diamond. A 
Holy Grail of pinchbeck — ^in fact, an epitome of the whole 
of P^ladan’s pathetic ‘khop^e’. Images of various divin- 
ities adorn the pilasters round the altar: ‘I’Oannfes de 



BYZANTIUM 327 

Kald^e, le Dieu mitr^ k la queue de poisson, 1 ’ Ammon R4 
du Nil, la Mayl de I’lnde et I’Ath^n^ grecque . . . une 
decoration panthdonique des religions.’ Parsifalism is 
mixed up with Legitimism: the Rosicrucians cultivate the 
dream or ‘the last of the Bourbons’. Inside the temple the 
organ gives forth the notes of Parsifal. But even this 
superb decor^ like that which Nebo prepared for his angelic 
love-affair, is the scene of a fiasco. The companions of 
Mdrodack refuse to pronounce the vow of chastity. M^ro- 
dack ‘avait voulu rdaliser la Vertu supreme; et Monsalvat, 
sous le soufile passionnel, s’ecroulait’. Parsifal changes 
rapidly into the Twilight of the Gods. 

1 2. Among the most characteristic works of this period 
must be mentioned the novel by £l6mir Bourges 74 which 
actually took its title from Wagner’s opera, Le Crepuscule 
des dieux (1884, second edition 1901; the novel was 
written between 1877 and 1882). Bourges, a member of 
the Academie Goncourt since its foundation, recounts the 
vicissitudes of a German ducal family undermined by lust 
and madness, founding his story partly on actual fact 
(especially upon the extravagances of Ludwig II of 
Bavaria), and partly colouring it with ideas taken from 
the Diaboliques of a’Aurevilly and from the Elizabethan 
tragedies. The Duke belongs to a branch of the notorious 
family of Este, and has several bastards. Foremost among 
the various Italian adventurers at his court is the singer 
Giulia Belcredi: 

‘La Belcredi, point galante et de cerveau mile, autant que les 
Laura de Dianti et les Vittoria Accorambona du seizieme sibcle, 
c’^it une femme feite exprb pour vivre dans ces temps sangjants, 
dominer sur quelque cour italienne, s’occuper de guerres, de politi- 
que, d’intrigues,de poisons, de sonnets,avec un Vinci qui I’evltpeinte.’ 

She has, in fact, a ‘sourire d^rob6 et noir de Joconde’, 
‘ce sourire de sphinx, dpux et glac^ en m€me temps, dont 
elle couvrait et masquait ses plus terribles resolutions’. 
And also, like one of d’ Aurevilly’s viragos, Giulia is greedy 
‘d’emotions nouvelles, inconnues, violentes, surhumaines’. 
The following reflection is worthy of d’Aurevilly (p. 249 
of the second edition): 

‘Ah! vieille idole de I’amour, qu’importe comment on t’adorel 



328 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Dans les derfeglements du corps, c’est toujours notre Sme qui agit, 
et tourmentde de I’infini oh elle voudrait s’amalgamer, entratne, de 
bourbier en bourbier, son miserable compagnon.’ 

Giulia, ‘cette insolente Joconde’, to further her sinister 
design of getting rid of the Duke’s children, so that she, 
as favourite, may concentrate all the power and wealth in 
her own hands, drags ^orth from the twilight of the sub- 
conscious the incestuous love of two of the Duke’s chil- 
dren, the melancholy Hans Ulric and the ethereal Chris- 
tiane, and leads it forward to catastrophe. She reads them 
Byron’s Manfred, Ford’s play 'Tis Pity she 's a Whore, in 
which is presented the guilty passion of Giovanni and 
Annabella, and finally succeeds in making them take the 
parts of Siegmund and Sieglinde in the Valkyrie. Drunk 
with Wagner’s music, the brother and sister, refined and 
music-mad as characters in Poe, consummate their in- 
cestuous love, after which Ulric kills himself and Chris- 
tiane becomes a nun. Finally Giulia becomes the mistress 
of Otto, another son of the Duke’s, violent and a libertine, 
and together they plot to poison the Duke. The scene in 
which Giulia prepares the poison, and then combines the 
sense of sin with that of pleasure by lying with Otto, 
comes very near to the art of the Diaboliques-, while 
the melodramatic catastrophe at Paris, in the Duke’s 
bathroom, when the latter, having discovered the plot, 
replies to his son’s revolver-shot by firing back at him, and 
Giulia poisons herself upon the body of Otto whom she 
believes to be dead — and all this while a storm rages out- 
side, and the French troops mobilized against Prussia (we 
are in 1870) are passing through the street — is cleverly 
modelled upon the turbid, bloodstained dramas of the 
Elizabethans. The novel ends in a remarkably Decadent 
key. The debauched Duke, weighed down by his excesses, 
attends a performance at Bayreuth of Gstterdammerung and 
sees in it a symbol of the end of an entire world : ‘Tous les 
signes de destruction ^taient visibles sur I’ancien monde, 
comme des anges de col^re, au-dessus d’une Gomorrhe 
condamn^e.’ The Duke dies, leaving extravagant disposi- 
tions in his will as to his tomb. The decay of the German 
cotirts, and particularly the madness of Ludwig of 



BYZANTIUM 329 

Bavaria, inspired also other writers in France, for example 
Toulet in Monsieur du Paur. Bourges quotes certain lines 
sf Agrippa d’Aubign^ to serve as motto to his novel: 

Si quelqu’un me reprend que mes vers eschauffez 
Ne sont rien que de meurtre et de sang estoffez, 

Qu’on n’y lit que fiireur, que massacre, que rage, 
Qu’horreur, malheur, poison, trahi^n et carnage, 

Je lui respons; . . . 

•••••••• 

Ce si^cle, autre en ses moeurs, demande un autre style. 
Cueillons des fruicts amers desquels il est fertile. 

Non, il n’est plus permis sa veine desguiser; 

La main peut s’endormir, non I’^me reposer. 

13* The novels of Catulle Mendfes constitute another 
etkopee of Latin Decadence. Of all the preachers of mis- 
fortune, Mendes was certainly the most voluminous and 
the blackest. Speaking of one of his novels, ’s Barbey 
d’Aurevilly remarked upon its derivation from the ‘frdn^ti- 
que’ Hugo of Han dPslande and Bug Jargal, and upon the 
accentuation of the monstrous side, both of vice and virtue, 
in his work: 

‘Tous, sans exception, dans le livre de M. Mend^ ce pandemo- 
nium de chimeres oti les monstres alternent avec les plus difformes 
caricatures, qui ne sont pas la verite non plus; tous sont tellement 
p6tris et tripotes dans I’hyperbole et dans I’impossible, que Victor 
Hugo lui-mSme, malgre ses fameux yeux qui grossissent tout ce 
qu’ils regardent, deconcerte par un tel spectacle, serait bien capable 
de dire k la fin qu’une telle societe de monstres n’existe pas. Et, de 
Ait, Victor Hugo est plus sobre de monstres, lui, dans I’interSt 
de quelques-uns d’entre eux, tandis que ce diable exasp^re de 
M. Catulle Mendfe en met partout, comme de la moutarde.’ 

Mendes, as we have already had occasion to mention, 
brought into actual being certain novels such as Baude- 
laire had planned in order to epaterle bourgeois., accompany- 
ing his pageant of ghastly wax figures vnth passages of 
moral uplift in the style of Baudelaire’s conclusion to the 
dialogue between Delphine and Hippolyte: 

Descendez, descendez, lamentables victimes, 

Descendez le chemin de I’enfer 6ternel! 



330 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Jamais vous ne pourrez assouvir votre rage, 

Et votre chitiment naitra de vos plaisirs. . . . 

Loin des peuples vivants, errantes, condamn^es, 

A tiavers les ddseits courez comme les loups; 

Faites votre destin, imes ddsordonn^, 

Et fiiyez I’infiipj que vous portez en vous. 

Among the novels of Mendfes the most typical are 
Zo'har (1886) and La premiere mattresse (1887). The 
first tells a story of incest, complicated by an inverted 
sexual relationship in which the woman is virile and the 
man feeble: it exaggerates the colours used by Barbey 
d’Aurevilly, by Villiers de I’lsle-Adam, by Rachilde in 
Monsieur Venus, and Bourges in Le Crepuscule des dieux. 
In Mendfes’ novel the characters move convulsively: it is 
all hallucination, hysteria, so deliberately, rhetorically 
frenzied (one is reminded of Guerrazzi) that it becomes a 
veritable parody. When Leopold discovers that his sister 
Stephana is with child by him: 

‘II frdmit de la tSte aux pieds, livide, I’oeil fou. 

‘Qu’6tait-ce done ? Que voyait-il ? Quelle terreur nouvelle, plus 
violente que routes les autres, le secouait ? II allongeait un bras, il 
^tendait une main, droit devant lui, vers elle; et sa main tremblait, 
comme celle d’un homme qui d&igne quelque ^pouvantable appari- 
tion. Elle frissonna, livide aussi, k cause de la direction de cette 
main. Pourtant, elle dit: — Qu’avez-vous, Leopold? 

‘ — Oh! ... oh! ... oh! .. . ton ventre! bdgaya-t-il, la main 
toujours Vendue.’ 

The following passage describes Leopold's subsequent 
hallucination, which is wbrthy of the brush of a Hierony- 
mus Bosch: 

‘S’il s’^tait retourn6, s’il avait regarde — il fupit, les yeux dos, 
la tSte entre ses ^ules levdes! — il aurait vu d’abominables vivants, 
hommes nains, bfetes naines, celles-ci sans tfete, ceux-lk sans jambes 
et se tralnant; il aurait vu, comme dans la cour des mirades de 
I’enfer, tous les estropiements, tous les inachbvements, routes les 
difformites, routes les purulences; il aurait vu, en une ferandole de 
Sabbat, des enfants-crapauds^* et des enfiints-araigndes, de petites 
hyenes et de jeunes loups feits de noeuds de vipbres, et des sautde- 
ments de macaques sur leurs ignobles fesses bleues, et, courant aussi, 
des nourrices poilues, chbvres debout sur leurs pattes de derribre, 



BYZANTIUM 331 

qui, au lieu du lait d’un sein, donnent k boire I. des nouveaux-nds 
pareils k de tres petits vieillards, le pus, goutte k goutte, d’une plaie 
qu’elles pressent. Et il savait que tout ce pullulement sortait du 
ventre incestueux, Ik-bas! II accouchait, il accouchait, le ventre 
gros de monstres!’ 

Mendfes carries on his frantic scene against a back- 
ground of terrifying Norwegian Ynountains (the same 
mountains that had served as decor to the impossible love- 
affair of Balzac’s Seraphita), with a waterfall which flames 
in the Aurora Borealis like a ‘quadruple niagara d’incendie 
et de sang’ ! Leopold flings himself over a precipice and 
his sister buries herself alive with his corpse yike the Vdra 
of Villiers de 1’ Isle- Adam)— with the usual necrophilistic 
details.77 When they open the tomb, they find an ex- 
cessively revolting spectacle (there is even the little corpse 
of an unborn child, ‘le ndant de ce qui n’avait pas dtd’), and 
the horror of the discoverer is such that he hurls the 
corpses into the sea and leaves on a journey to the North 
Pole, where he hopes to bury his ghastly secret among the 
ice-floes. Thus also in Monsieur Venus, of which we shall 
speak shortly, de Raittolbe, the eye-witness of the horrible 
loves of Raoule and Jacques, leaves for darkest Africa 
where he is expected to finish his life. This type of ending 
— ^a sort of geographical catharsis — ^is common in novelsH 
of this period. 

There is an even more pronoimced moral pose (this also 
is to be found in Guerrazzi) in La premi&re mattresse, 
where the preface, printed all in capital letters, gives a 
warning of the dangerousness of women, and quotes the 
example of the mummy of Psammetichus which was found 
after a thousand years intact except at one point in the 
neck ‘qui 6tait une plme grouillante de vers, et d’ou sortait 
une petite flamme ae pourriture’, because in that particu- 
lar place Psammetichus, ‘jeune encore, ignorant des caresses 
de la femme, avait 6t6 bais^ par une courtisane’. In this 
novel the man is raped by a diabolical woman, who makes 
him the slave of her ghastly vampire degeneracy which 
makes havoc with men. 

‘Evelin, si joli, si frfele, Eveiin, cet enfent qu’elle avait voulu 
parce qu’il ressemblait k tout ce qui est frais et fra^e, parce qu’il 



332 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

6tait i peine un homme' avec des gracilitfe de fiUette, qu’elle avait 
pris, elle, rhorrible ^ducatrice, parce qu’il ^it, malgr6 les mauvais 
rfeves, ignorant et ing^nu, £velin, dans les bras, sous la bouche, 
sous les dents, sous les ongles d’Honorine, tremblait comme une 
feible proie qui saigne et qui a peur, et qui voudrait fuir, et qui 
succombe. . . . EUe connaissait I’dpouvantable ravissement d’un 
d^mon qui a conquis l’an>e dHine vierge!’ 

Another devilish woittan, this time a Lesbian, is the 
central figure in Mephistopkela (1890). Of all the mon- 
strosities which pullulate in the fiction of this period, 
Lesbians are among the most popular: there is no need to 
do more than mention the grisly episode of Gilonne de 
Bonisse and Gabrielle de Vignes in Saint-Cendre^ by 
Maurice Maindron (1898). It was the period of Les 
Amours defendues by Rend Maizeroy, of novels such as 
Monsieur Jocaste and Monsieur Venus, the Marquise de Sade 
p.nd the Monstres parisiens — a land of mythical age of 
pornographic literature, with sexual ichthyosauri and 
'I palaeosauri, caprices a la Goya and incubi a la Rops.* 

14. TThe androgyne ideal was the obsession not only of 
Pdladan, but of the whole Decadent Movement. The first 
volume of the Decadence latine had not yet seen the light 
when the ideal of the androgyne was proclaimed by a 
woman — a girl of twenty — ^Rachilde (her real name was 
Marguerite Eymery), in Monsieur Venus (in the Brussels 
edition of 1884 it is stated as having been written in 
collaboration with F. Talman). 

Barbey d’Aurevilly immediately became enthusiastic 
about the book. Barrds, in the preface which he wrote for 
the 1889 edition, with the title of Complications d' amour, 
described the content of the book as a ‘spectacle d’une 
rare perversitd*' — ^not really so rare at that time — and — 
exquisite connoisseur of the human soul as he was — 
added: 

‘Ce qui est tout ^ lait ddlicat dans k perversitd de ce livre, c’est 
qu’il a Ad dcrit par une jeune fille de vingt ans. Le merveilleux 
dief-d’(Euvre! . . . toute cette frdndsie tendre et mdchante, et ces 
formes d’amour qui sentent k mort, sont I’ceuvre d’une enfent, de 
I’enknt k plus douce et k plus retirde. . . . Ce vice savant dcktant 
dans le rfive d’une vierge, c’est un des problfemes des plus mystdrieux 
que je sacfae. . . .’ 



BYZANTIUM 333 

He also quoted the description of the authoress which 
Jean Lorrain had written (‘Mademoiselle Salamandre’, in 
the Courrier frangais of December 12th, 1886): 

*Une pensionnaire d’allures sobres et r&ervees, tr^ pale, il cst 
vrai,mais d’une p^leur de pensionnaire studieuse . . . une vraie jeune 
fille, un peu mince, un peu frSIe, aux mains inqui^tantes de petitesse, 
au profil grave d’dphfebe grec ou de jeune Fran9ais amoureux . . . et 
des yeux — oh! les yeux! des yeux longs, longs, alourdis de cils 
invraisemblables et d’une clarte d’eau, des yeux qui ignorent tout* 

Lorrain began his article in this way: ‘Couche-t-elle? — 
Non, chaste, mais elle a dans son cerveau une alc6ve* • . / 

This portrait clearly forms a pendant to the portraits 
of men which we have been studying in this chapter. 
Women, too, had started to practise the precept ‘lasciva 
est nobis pagina, vita proba^ Rachilde herself defined 
Monsieur Venus as ‘le plus merveilleux produit de Thystdrie 
arrivde au paroxysme de la chastetd dans un milieu vicieux\ 
A remark which de Gourmont once made should perhaps 
be remembered in this connexion: ‘La perversion d’une 
jeune fille est une preuve de son innocence.’ 

No analysis of the novel could be better than that of 
Barrds, and we shall therefore quote it here: 

‘Mile Raoule de Vdndrande est une fiere jeune fille, trhs ner- 
veuse; avec des levres minces, d’un dessein assez ddsagrdable. Dans 
I’atelier de sa fleuriste, elle remarque un jeune ouvrier. Couronnd 
de roses qu’il tortille lestement en guirlande, ce gargon, d’un roux 
tres fence, I’enchante par son menton k fossette, sa chair unie et 
enfantine, et le petit pli qu’il a au cou, le pli du nouveau-ne qui 
engraisse; et puis il regarde, comme implorent les chiens souffiunts, 
avec une vague humiditd dans les prunelles. . . . Raoule installe dans 
un interieur fort romanesque ce joli gar9on si gras; elle le surprend 
qui, fou d’une folie de fiancee en presence de son trousseau de 
femme, Ifeche jusqu’aux roulettes des meubles k travers leurs franges 
multicolores. Avec un cynisme de tres spirituelle allure, elle le 
ddconcerte quand il imagine d’etre aimable; elle le pousse dans un 
cabinet de toilette, elle le fait rougir par son audace 2 l rexaminer 
et le complimenter, lui, le rustre qu’elle a recueilli sous prftexte de 
charit6. Et le pauvre mile humiU6 s’agenouille sur la tratne de la 
robe de Raoule, et sanglote. Car, Rachilde le dit excellemment, 
il etait fils d’un ivrogne et d’une catin, son honneur ne savait que 
pleurer. Ce M. V^nus, absolument d&exu6 de caractfere par une 



334 the romantic AGONY 

suite de procedfe ing^nieux, devient la mattresse de Raoule. Je 
veux dire qu’elle Taime, I’entretient et le caresse, qu’elle s’irrite et 
s’attendrit aupres de lui, sans jamais cdder au d&ir qui la ferait 
aussit6t I’inferieure de ce rustre, prfe de qui elle se plait k frissonner, 
mais qu’elle meprise. Elle d^finit son gout d’une fa^on admirable: 
“J’aimerai Jacques comme un fiance aime sans espoir une fiancfe 
morte.” . . . Raoule de V^nerande, cette insensee au teint p^le et aux 
Ifevres minces, qui lave le corps equivoque de Jacques Silvert, fait 
songer, avec toutes les differences de climat, de civilisation et 
d’epoque, au vertige de Phrygie, quand les femmes lamentaient 
Attis, le petit male rose et trop gras. Ces obscures complications 
d’amour ne sont pas seulement faites d’enervation; ^ leur luxure 
se m6le un mysticisme trouble. La Raoule de V6nerande du roman 
a pour directrice une parente de toute pi6te, et qui ne cesse de 
stigmatiser I’humanite fangeuse. Rachilde ecrit: “Dieu aurait dii 
cr^er I’amour d’un cote et les sens de I’autre. L’amour veritable 
ne se devrait composer que d’amiti^ chaude. Sacrifions les sens, la 
b6te.” Ces r^ves tendres et malgr6 tout impurs ont toujours tente 
les cerveaux les plus fiers. Un romancier catholique, Josephin 
Peladan, a cm pouvoir s’abandonner k ces vertiges malsains sans 
offensersa religion. ... La maladie du siecle, qu’il faut toujours citer 
et dont Monsieur Venus signale chez la femme une des formes les 
plus int^ressantes, est faite en effet d’une fatigue nerveuse excessive 
et d’un orgueil inconnu jusqu’alors. . . . On verrait, avec effroi, quel- 
ques-uns arriver au degoGt de la gr^ce feminine, en m6me temps 
que M. Venus proclame la haine de la force mile. Complication 
de grande consequence! le d6goGt de la femme! la haine de la force 
mile! Voici que certains cerveaux rSvent d’un 6tre insexue. Ces 
imaginations sentent la mort.’ 

It could not be better put. Is it necessary, after this, to 
insist upon the details of the novel ? Upon the virility of 
Raoule, who keeps in her bedroom a panoply of weapons 
‘de tous genres et de tous pays’ ? Upon the sadistic com- 
plications, which Barr^s says are ingenuous, but which, 
for all that, have their significance, for wherever there is 
conscious and pleasurable violation of the normal, there 
the shade of the Divine Marquis is present .?78 Upon 
Raoule’s panther-roar at the sight of the equivocal nudity 
of Jacques ? Upon the evocation of the legendary figure of 
Antinous, whose bust, with eyes of enamel ‘luisants de ddsirs’, 
adorned Raoule’s room ? Raoule gives hashish to Jacques ; 

*Mon amour, murmura-t-elle si has que Jacques entendit comme 



BYZANTIUM 335 

on entend au fond d’un ablme, nous allons nous appartenir dans 
un pa)rs Strange que tu ne connais point Ce pays est celui des fous, 
mais iln’est pas pourtant celui des brutes. . . . Je viens dete d^pouiller 
de tes sens vulgaires pour t’en donner d’autres plus subtils, plus 
raffing. Tu vas voir avec mes yeux, goflter avec mes Ifevres. Dans 
ce pays, on rSve, et cela sulEt pour exister. . . . Jacques, la t6te ren- 
versfe, t^chait de ressaisir ses mains. II crqyait rouler peu k peu, dans 
une ond6e de plumes. ... A son oreille, bruissaient les chants d’un 
amour Strange n’ayant pas de sexe et procurant toutes les voluptfe.’ 

In her later work, Rachilde seeks to emphasize the 
sadistic aspects of her inspiration. In A Mart (1886) a 
dandy, Maxime de Bryon, tortures the delicate Madame 
Soirfes and kills her by inches. Finally, this authoress 
had no hesitation in exploiting the commercial value of her 
own speciality by boldly flaunting the sensational title La 
Marquise de Sade (end of 1886), of which Lorrain said: 
‘Roman a fracas, dont les Editions volent et disparaissent 
comme emport6es dans un tourbillon de curiosity exas- 
p^r^e et malsaine’, but about the competence of which he, 
who was an authority on that point, declared sceptically: 
‘C’est ardemment rSvd, d’accord, mais pas du tout vecu . . . 
oh I pas du tout’ ; and concluded by describing the writer in 
her own words: 

‘Son €tre d’une chair incorruptible passait au milieu des hyst^ries 
de son temps comme la salamandre au milieu des ilammes; elle vivait 
des nerfr des autres plus encore que des siens propres.’ 

We need not be concerned here with Rachilde’s subse- 
quent production. Incredible though it may seem, this 
writer has continued imperturbably, right down to the 
present day, to pour forth novels, some more, some less 
sensational, and even as I write these pages there may be 
seen in the windows of certain bookshops a book of hers 
called U Homme au hras de feu^ which, as the wrapper, 
decorated with the mature likeness of the lady who was 
once Mademoiselle Salamandre, promises, ‘hantera fatale- 
ment tons les cerveaux ^pris de rSves d’une myst^rieuse 
sensuality’. Times have changed, and to-day Rachilde 
employs themes of rough sensuality in the Spanish manner, 
as is fitting in a period which has produced Montherlant, 
D. H. Lawrence, and others. 



336 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

15. The strange passion, sexless and lustful, which was 
described in Monsieur Venus , was the obsession of the 
period. It is predominant in the paintings of Moreau, in 
the novels of Pdadan, but is visible everywhere. 

Even as early as 1862, the heroine of Isis, by Villiers 
de risle-Adam, had ‘rdnigmatique contenance d’une 
Bradamante mitin^e d’une Circd antique’; the hero of 
V albert, by T. de Wyzewa (1893), loathes the violent 
appetites of nature and tries the impossible experiment of a 
voluntarily chaste marriage. Poe had introduced meta- 
physical moods into love; the influence of the Russian 
;novel merely developed the tendency. Dostoievsky, 
especially, gave a more profoimd treatment to certain of 
Poe’s themes; compare Tbe Double with the American 
writer’s William Wilson, and observe the preponderance 
of the ‘imp of the perverse’ in the characters of Dostoiev- 
sky. The French found, or thought they found, in the 
jnovels of Dostoievsky a sadism which had become more 
mystical and more subtle,’^ no longer limited to the gross- 
ness of physical torture, but penetrating like a worm-hole 
into all moral phenomena (which of Barbey’s ‘diabolical’ 
women had arrived at the perfection of Nastasia Filip- 
povna, who felt a horrible, unnatural joy in the tormenting 
knowledge of her own dishonour they found also a 
thirst for the impossible, and impotence elevated to the 
height of a mystical ecstasy (in Myshkin, the hero of The 
Idiot), Dostoievsky seemed to speak the very language of 
Baudelaire, not in aphorisms, but with a profusion of in- 
trospective eloquence: 


‘Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has 
not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us 
nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradic- 
tions exist side by side. . . . What’s still more awful is that a man 
with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of 
the Madonna. . . . What to the mind is shamsflll is beauty and 
nothing else to the heart Is there beauty in Sodom ?'' Believe me, 
that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom.*' 
Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is 
^mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are righting there!' 
and the battlefield is the heart of man. . , I loved vice, I loved 



BYZANTIUM 337 

the ignominy of vice. I loved cruelty; am I not a bug, am I not 
a noxious insect? In feet a Karamazov!’** 

In Sade and in the sadists of the ‘frdndtique’ type of 
Romanticism it is the integrity of the body which is as- 
saulted and destroyed, whereas in Dostoievsky one has the 
feeling — to use a phrase from Letters from the Underworld 
— of the ‘intimacy of the soul brutally and insolently vio- 
4ated’.®2 Actually Dostoievsky did nothing more than 
make use, but with profounder understanding, of certain 
themes used by the ‘frdn^tique’ French Romantics, and of 
the method of the passionate monologue as used in the 
Confession d'un enfant du sikle\ and the fact that he was 
such a belated manifestation of the Romanticism of 1830)' 
made him, by a curious combination of circumstances, 
particularly vital to the Decadents of the end of the cen- 
tury, who renewed the taste for the ‘frdndtique’ (in a cer- 
tain sense the case of Dostoievsky is similar, on a larger 
scale, to that of Barbey d'Aurevilly). The relations of the - 
y sexes, in the novels of Dostoievsky, are often the same as 
in the Decadents: the man is reduced to playing the 
woman’s part, the woman, on the other hand, is wilful and 
domineering — ^the Fatal Woman.* Nastasia Filippovna 
in The Idiot, Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov, 
Natalia Vassilyevna in The Eternal Husband. . . . 

16. It is a Russian Woman, therefore, Madame 
Livitinof, in Jean Lorrain’s Tris russe (1886), who repre- 
sents the type of the allumeuse: 

‘Elle 4 tait ^ la fois I’Attirance et &. la fois la Chastet^, triste et 
m^lancolieuse comme une pudeur brisde, pure, adorable et dfeirable 
comme I’incarnation m^me de la Pudeur.’ 

This Russian woman (naturally she is called Sonia)!- 
refuses to give herself to Mauriat when he meets her 
again. Why? “Pourquoi?” [she repeats] ‘et un mauvais 
sourire, un sourire inquietant de Joconde [one expected 
that], k la fois douloureux et cruel, dcartait ses Ifevres 
minces : “Farce que la chastet^ est TextrSme dcsir’’.’ Thus 
\She takes delight in tormenting her lover (a weak man, 
‘cruel comme une femme, doux comme im enfant’). 

‘Elle surexcitait et exasp^rait les sens de IVIauriat, comme elle 



338 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

eiit fait fouetter un de ses serfs, Ik-bas, dans ses terres, par d&oeuvre- 
ment, caprice, une envie qu’il lui prenait de se prouver k elle-mSme 
sa puissance et de voir couler un peu de rouge . . . humain. Mauriat 
etait sa propri^td comme ses moujiks; elle se I’^taitafFermd en se don- 
nant k lui : c’dtait Fapplication du droit feodal dans toute sa splendeur.’ 

Madame Livitinof is a reincarnation of Marguerite de 
Bourgogne, of Cleopatra: she, also, dreams of the kiss of 
a man who will never love again after he has once possessed 
her. This the author calls ‘trfes russe’, and it is in con- 
formity with the psychology of Dostoievsky. For in The 
Idiot (of which the first French translation was in 1887), 
Giania actually says to Myshkin, about Nastasia: 

‘You know, I believe she also loves me — in her own way, you 
understand. You know the proverb: “Whom I love, him I 
chastise”. All through life she will see in me a person to be despised 
(and perhaps that is what she wants); but in spite of everything she 
will love me in her way; she prepares herself for that, such is her 
Character. I tell you, she is profoundly Russian.’ 

In order to bring home his point, Lorrain gives a version 
of a Russian ballad in which is described the appalling 
punishment meted out to the son of a king, by a duke’s 
daughter, whom he espied naked in her bath : the king’s son, 
blinded and thrown into a deep dimgeon, still goes on 
loving the lady, whom he sees always young and beautiful 
as on the fatal day. 

A fumUte of quite deplorable taste, Jean Lorrain (his 
real name was Paul Duval), practised only one of the vices 
which he loved to parade before the public, but that a more 
than sufficient one — etheromania. His perversity, as 
some one wrote of him ,83 *ne descend pas plus bas que le 
cerveau. Ou si d’aventure une fois elle s’y hasarde, c’est 
une experience en vue de la litterature.’ Monsieur de 
Phocas, a character into which Lorrain put more of him- 
self than into any other, declaims the lines from Valery’s 
Narcissoy which are no less characteristic of the ‘decadent’ 
state of mind than the lines from Mallarme’s Hirodiade 
which Huysmans made des Esseintes admire: 

0 frbres, tristes lys, je languis de beaute 

Que je deplore ton edat fetal et pur! 



BYZANTIUM 339 

Lorrain’s fixation, as a theoretical sadist, was to give 
himself the airs of a murderer: he combed his hair forward 
(he had dyed his hair red, as Baudelaire had dyed his 
green) to make his forehead look lower and to bring into 
greater prominence what Bataille described as ‘les maxil- 
laires assassins’; he was also attracted by the spectacle of 
the underworld and did his best t(? frequent it as much as 
possible; and he kept always in his sitting-room a livid and 
bloody tnmcated head . . . made of wax. It was a case of 
‘virility complex’ in a being of feminine sensibility, a 
hysterical, with homosexual tendencies. Assisted by an 
affectionate mother, this chronic invalid crawled about in 
the simshine of Provence, disguised as a werewolf. 

It is possible that I may be accused ‘de me faire la 
partie trop belle’, as the French say, in looking for illustra- 
tions of the atmosphere of the Decadence in the works of 
Jean Lorrain. For Lorrain carried the fashions of the period 
to the degree of paroxysm — ^the passion for unhealthy, 
perverse young men (he, too, was attracted by the Andro- 
gyne),®+ for the satanic Primitives (Botticelli’s Primavera 
was at that time considered ‘satanique, irresistible, et 
terrifiante’),* for Gustave Moreau and the Pre-Raphaelites, 
for flowers of strange and equivocal shapes (cf. the phallic 
flowers of des Esseintes),®5 for faisandage and all kinds of 
combinations of lust and death. The exotic perversions 
which were the vogue of the fin de sikle were sadism a V an- 
glaise and the Slav soul: Lorrain quickly became a passion- 
ate student of both. 

In Les Noronsoff (Le Vice errant) he tells the story of an 
ancestral crime in a Russian family, in virtue of which its 
women become Messalinas and its men Heliogabali. The 
hero of the tale combines this unenviable heredity with the 
heredity of the Borgias, since his mother, an Italian, has in 
her veins the ancient blood of Alexander VI! ‘Nul doute 
que de ces deux sangs princiers, Borgia et Noronsoff, 
quelque redoutable fleuron n’eflt jailli . . . . le fleuron 
supreme d’une lign^e de crimes, de folies et de sang.’ It 
is a fine combination : 

‘Les Russes ont des Sines d’enfent. Instinctif et impulsif avec une 
nalvet6 candide, nul peuple ne se pourrit plus fecilement au contact 



340 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

des vieilles civilisations Le prince Wladimir etait bien un fils 

de cette race sauvage et tendre, hatee dans sa decomposition facile 
par cette goutte de sang florentin, apport^e Ik par les San Carloni.’ 

So we find ourselves in the full flood of the ‘decadence 
latine’. but it can hardly be said that the new Europe was 
to arise, as Pdladan hoped, from this crossing of Slav and 
Latin. The more or l^^s sadistic orgies of this tiresome 
descendant of Neros, Trimalchios, and Heliogabali may 
easily be imagined. In the end, after an access of vampir- 
ism (he tries to cut the throat of one of his moujiks in 
order to drink ‘son jeune sang, son sang frais de force et de 
sant6’), ‘dans un hoquet supreme il crachait enfin la vieille 
tme de Byzance trop longtemps attard^e en lui’. Though 
Lorrain put something of his own character into that of 
Noronsoff and laid on the colours pretty thick (even the 
Russian prince is, among other things, a kind of invalid 
ogre, pampered by his mother), he put much more of him- 
self into the hero of Monsieur de Phocas (1901), a novel 
which partly imitates Wilde’s Picture oj Dorian Gray, but 
surpasses its model in the intensity of the obsessions it 
displays. 

17. It is rather surprising that a critic as serious as 
Charles du Bos should announce that Wilde’s work ‘n’a 
jamais re9u le traitement qu’elle m^rite ; en ce qui concerne 
The Picture of Dorian Gray, j’estime que Ton a toujours 
t^moignd d’une grande injustice’.®^ I do not wish to enter 
here into the question of the artistic value of Wilde’s novel, 
but merely to consider its interest as an illustration of the 
period. 

The aesthetic ancestry of Dorian Gray has been ex- 
haustively studied it is traceable mainly to Mademoiselle 
de Maufin and A rehours. The work itself, then, though 
written in English, belongs really to the French school 
and must be considered as a curious exotic reflection 
of it.8® 

At the risk of fatiguing the reader with one parenthesis 
inside another, like so many Chinese boxes, I should like 
to point out in passing how Swinburne’s influence intro- 
duced into England the French literary tendencies to 
which he had paid homage. Through Swinburne, the 



BYZANTIUM 341 

younger generation was initiated into the Decadent Move- 
ment, and continued the discovery on its own account in 
defiance of the initiator himself who, grown more temperate 
with age, wrote a parody (The Statue of John BrutOy unpub- 
lished) of that same Dorian Gray which indirectly he had 
rendered possible. 

A contemporary of Swinburne, “Arthur O’Shaughnessy 
(1844—81), in his Epic of Women (1870), parades before 
us a procession of Fatal Women, instruments of perdition 
to mankind — Eve, the wife of Hephaestus, Cleopatra, 
Salome, Helen. And following the example of Baudelaire 
and Swinburne, he wrote a poem To a ToungMurderesSy in 
which recur the delirious accents of Swinburne’s sadistic 
maniacs. 

Will you not sky me? Stab me, yea, somehow 
Deep in the heart: say some foul word at last 
And let me hate you as I love you now. 

Oh, would I might but see you turn and cast 
That Alse fair beauty that you e’en shall lose, 

And fell down there and writhe about my feet, 

The crooked loathly viper I shall bruise 
Through all eternity! — 

Nay, kiss me. Sweet! 

In another passage he professes his love for the ‘passion 
of purple Nero’ — a Romantic ‘purple patch’ which has 
now become commonplace. 

Pater, the forerunner of the Decadent Move- 
-mefifin England (particularly in his conclusion to Studies 
An the Renaissance (1873), the book from which we have 
quoted the famous passage where the ‘Medusean’ type of 
beauty is foimd incarnate in La Gioconda) shows himself 
as being ‘ready to indulge in the luxury of decay, and 
amuse himself with fancies of the tomb’ — ^to use a phrase 
from Duke Carl of Rosenmold — ^in his tales of the mufiled 
lives of exquisitely meditative youths (see A Child in the 
Houscy and the characteristic fate of all these youths, 
Marius the Epicurean, Flavian, Watteau, Duke Carl of 
Rosenmold), and of beauty devastated by cruelty (Denys 
I’Auxerrois).*® , ^ 

The feminine souls of Pater’s ‘frail androgynous beings’v* 



342 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

are already open to all the influences of the Decadence; 
Duke Carl of Rosenmold is a sensual dilettante in the 
manner of Ludwig II of Bavaria or of des Esseintes. It 
was not therefore astonishing that Pater should have 
crowned with his approval the Confessions of a Toung Man 
(1888), in which (^orge Moore finally succeeded, after 
various unsuccessful attempts (early verse imitated 
from Baudelaire, Flowers of Passion^ 1878, Pagan Poems, 
1881; the novels A Mere Accident, 1887, and Mike Fletcher, 
1 8 89) in presenting to the younger generation in England, 
already saturated with Pater’s aestheticism, a version — 
which was somewhat superficial, it is true — of the gospel 
of Mademoiselle de Maupin and A rehoursP° Later, in 
Evelyn Innes (first edition 1898, revised edition, 1908) 
Moore wrote a novel which is just as typically fin de slide 
as D’Annunzio’s II Piacere, with aesthetic Hellenism a la 
Gautier (Sir Owen’s favourite passage in literature is the 
one in Mademoiselle de Maupin: ‘Je suis un homme des 
temps hom^riques. . . .’), with the music of Wagner 
(Tristan), aesthetic backgrounds, and pseudo-mysticism. 

Themes of a decadent and perverse nature, at second 
hand, recur in several minor poets of the time — ^Arthur 
Symons, Richard Le Gallienne, John Gray, Theodore 
Wratislaw, Lionel Johnson, Olive Custance, Ernest Dow- 
son, 9 i and, in more recent times, J. E. Flecker, author of 
the sadistic fantasy Hassan. 

The essence of the English Decadent school is con- 
tained in the forty odd pages of Aubrey Beardsley’s 
‘romantic novel’. Under the Hill (published in part in The 
Savoy, and as a posthumous volume in 1904, but it must 
be remarked that the accessible version is very much ex- 
purgated), in which a precious style resembling that of 
the Hypnerotomachia (from the famous illustrations of 
which Beardsley’s drawings derived not merely orna- 
mental motifs but actual technical suggestions)” moves 
with an eighteenth-century rhythm and is full of voluptu- 
ous Gallicisms: it is a faisande style, after the aesthetic 
theory of des Esseintes. It may be remembered, inci- 
dentally, that Thomas Grifiiths Wainewright, of whom 
Wilde speaks in Intentions, the subtle, perverse aesthete of 



BYZANTIUM 343 

the beginning of the nineteenth century who handled pen, 
pencil, and poison, adored the Sogxo di Polifilo. 

In Under the Hill the exquisite Abb^ Fanfreluche, the 
Poliphilus of this slight adventure, enters into the 
mysterious hill where dwells Helen, and is there invited 
to a magnificent orgy. The story is simply an uninter- 
rupted description (^decors before which Fanfreluche goes, 
Poliphilus-wise, into ecstasies — dresses, hair ‘floral with 
red roses’; decorative ‘Terminal Gods’ abound, quotations 
from books rare or imaginary {A Plea for the Domestication 
of the Unicom, The Ineffable and Miraculous Life of the 
Flower of Lima, &c.) and from the operas of Wagner.^^ 
There is also a description of a ballet with satyrs and 
shepherdesses. The Bacchanals of Sporion, Sporion being ‘a 
tall, slim, depraved young man with a slight stoop, a 
troubled walk, an oval impassible face with its olive skin 
drawn tightly over the bone, strong, scarlet lips, long 
Japanese eyes, and a great gilt toupet’. The work is oddly 
dedicated to the Cardinal Poldi Pezzoli, ‘Nuncio to the 
Holy See in Nicaragua and Patagonia’, by the convert 
Beardsley, a Catholic of the French Decadent type. In 
the Ballad of a Barber, also published in The Savoy, 
Beardsley gives expression to a perverse caprice ; the barber 
Carrousel, excited by the youthful freshness of a little 
princess of thirteen years old, ‘as lyrical and sweet As one 
of Schubert’s melodies’, cuts her throat: 

He snatched a bottle of Cologne, 

And broke the neck between his hands. 

The Princess gave a little scream. 

Carrousel’s cut was sharp and deep; 

He left her softly as a dream 
That leaves a sleeper to his sleep; 

He left the room on pointed feet. 

Smiling that things had gone so well. 

They hanged him in Meridian Street. 

You pray in vain for Carrousel. 

But the classic of the Decadence in England is The Pic- 
ture of Dorian Gray (first published in Lippincott's Monthly 
Magazine, July 1890), in which the hero, depraved by the 
reading of French books, professes the principles of pagan 



344 the romantic AGONY 

hedonism of Gautier’s d’Albert, refined by the more 
recent recipes of des Esseintes. The novel, from the 
moment of its appearance, was attacked in the St. James's 
Gazette^ where ‘The New Voluptuousness’ which ‘always 
leads up to blood-shedding’ was stigmatized. Although 
Wilde affirms in his book that ‘behind every exquisite 
ilhing that exists, the»s is something tragic’, speaks of 
‘sorrows’ which ‘stir one’s sense of beauty’ and of ‘wounds 
. . . like red roses’, and altogether tries to surround the 
figure of the hero with sinister shadows of mystery and 
death, he never succeeds in creating an atmosphere of 
anguish. He may well borrow from Poe {The Oval Por- 
trait'), from Rossetti {Saint Agnes of Intercession, The Por- 
trait), possibly from Maturin, 9 s the idea of the enchant- 
ment of the portrait, and again from Poe {William Wilson), 
and from Stevenson {fPhe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. 
Hyde, 1886, and Markheim, 1885) the alarming ideamf 
the hero’s double personality but he is capable of intro- 
ducing, right into the midst of a scene which he wishes 
to make horrifying, an opium-tainted cigarette, a pair of 
lemon-yellow gloves, a gold-latten match-box, a Louis 
Quinze silver salver, or a Saracenic lamp studded with 
turquoises, which brings the whole edifice to the ground 
by revealing the fact that the author’s real interest is in the 
decorative. Thus he speaks of events which ‘crept with 
silent blood-stained feet into his brain’, of death, whose 
‘monstrous wings seem to wheel in the leaden air around 
me’. ... I must not be accused of indulging in the aesthetic 
analysis from which I agreed to refrain: these inopportune 
decorative images are proof of a lack of seriousness in 
Wilde’s conscience and of the superficiality of his hedon- 
ism, and show him to be greedy and capricious as an 
irresponsible child. He accepted even scandal not un- 
willingly (it has been pointed out that he might easily have 
left England between the first and the second trial), not 
so much because of the fascination of disaster — though 
that undoubtedly contributed — ^but because of the tragic 
completeness which it conferred upon his career — ^for an 
objective and decorative, rather than a subjective, reason. 
The style of Dorian Gray alternates between the fanciful 



BYZANTIUM 345 

and the witty: in the dialogue Wilde on the whole proves 
himself a late descendant of the eighteenth-century 
playwrights, making one pun after another, and in his 
descriptive passages assuming the false natvetS and pic- 
turesque bombast of an adult who wishes to appear in- 
'Z genuous and surprising to the children whom he is trying 
to amuse. Wilde’s point of view, i}^ fact, is always scenic; 
he sees things as in stage-perspective; he is all the time 
arranging his characters, his landscapes, his events, and 
Jmaking them pose. When all is said, the whole significance 
of Dorian Gray may be considered to have been expressed 
in the little set of Latin verses {In honorem Doriani 
creatorisque ejus) which Lionel Johnson dedicated to 
Wilde, who had sent him a copy of the novel 

Amat avidus amores, 

Miros, miros carpit flores, 

Saevus pulchritudine: 

Quanto anima nigrescit, 

Tanto fecies splendescit, 

Mendax, sed quam splendide! 

Granted Wilde’s imitative capacity, his work is less 
characteristic of the period than it seems at the first 
glance, less characteristic, at any rate, than Lorrain’s 
Monsieur de Phocas, which, for all its Decadent ornamenta- 
tions and its monotonous wheezing of pathetic interjection 
(what a number of ‘Oh! s’ it contains!), bears witness to a 
profoundly troubled and painful state of mind.* 

In Monsieur de Phocas, instead of the frivolous Epi- 
curean, Lord Henry, there is the sadistic English painter 
Ethal to play the part of corruptor, and the dilettante 
Dorian Gray becomes the obsessed Freneuse. Detailed 
comparisons might also be made between the secondary 
characters and the episodes of the two books. For example, 
the killing of Ethal was suggested by the murder of Basil 
Hallward, and the Due de Freneuse, like Dorian Gray, 
frequents sordid taverns, the haunts of criminals, disguis- 
ing himself for the occasion, and so on. Besides this, 
Lorrain, who was acquainted with English artistic circles, 
combined incidents which really happened with his own 
fictitious ones. Claudius Ethal, ‘le femeux Ethal qu’un 



346 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

procfes retentissant avec Lord Kerneby [in connexion with 
the price of a portrait] vient d’^loigner d’Angleterre et 
d’amener k se fixer k Paris’ is, at least in this respect, taken 
from Whistler, whose lawsuit with an English journalist 
over a portrait for which he had asked a thousand guineas 
had been talked about by Robert de Montesquiou in 
Lorrain’s house.<>8 CWadius Ethal, in other respects, was 
modelled upon the living Toulouse-Lautrec and James 
Ensor,®^ and upon the imaginary Georges Selwyn of Gon- 
court’s LaFaustinJ°° 

Dorian Gray, like des Esseintes, was a collector of 
jewels; Freneuse is obsessed by jewels, ‘envofit^, poss^d^ 
d’lme certaine transparence glauque’ for which he searches 
in vain, both in precious stones and in the eyes of human 
beings. It is the limpid, green clearness of the aquamarine 
in the eyes of Astarte ‘qui est le D^mon de la Luxure et 
aussi le D6mon de la Mer’, of which he catches a glimpse 
in ‘la dolente 6meraude embusqu^e comme une lueur dans 
les orbites d’yeux des statues d’Herculanum’, in the liquid 
green eyes of certain busts of Antinous, ‘la prunelle ex- 
tasi^e et fSroce, implorante pourtant’, in the glance of the 
infernal bride in the picture called ‘The Three Brides’ by 
the turbid Catholic painter Toorop,'®^ and in the look in 
the eyes of the tortured, ‘la divine extase effar^e, sup- 
pliante, la volupt6 ^pouvant6e des yeux des sainte Agnes, 
des sainte Catherine de Sienne et des saint S 6 bastien’^o 2 — 
the look which Freneuse eventually discovered, portrayed 
to perfection, in the face of the wounded youth who opens 
the front of his tunic with a gesture of offering, in Gustave 
Moreau’s picture, Les Fretendants. 

‘Gustave Moreau, I’homme des sveltes Salomds misselantes de 
pierreries, des Muses porteuses de tfetes coupdes et des Hdifenes aux 
robes maill6es d’or vif, s’drigeant, un lys k la main, pareilles elles- 
mAmes k de grands lys lleuris, sur un fumier saignant de cadavres ! . . . 
Salomd, H^ne, I’Ennoia fetale aux races, les Sirbnes funestes k 
I’humanitd ! A-t-il 4t6 assez hante, lui aussi, de la cruautd symbolique 
des religions ddfuntes et des stupres divins ador& autrefois chez les 
peoples! 

‘Visionnaire conune pas un, il a rdgnA en maltre dans la sphbre 
des rfeves, mais, malade jusqu’S, en feire passer dans ses oeuvres le 



BYZANTIUM 347 

frisson d’angoisse et de d&esp^ration, il a, le maitre sorcier^ envoiit6 
son dpoque, ensorceI6 ses contemporains, containing d’un ideal 
maladif et mystique toute cette fin de sifecle d’agioteurs et de ban- 
quiersj et, sous le rayonnement de sa peinture, toute une generation 
de jeunes hommes s’est formee, douloureuse et alanguie,^®^ jgg yeux 
obstinement tourn^s vers la splendeur et la magie des jadis, toute 
une generation de litterateurs et de poetes surtout nostalgiquement 
epris, eux aussi, des longues nuditfe et yeux d’epouvante et de 
volupte morte de ses sorcieres de r^ve. 

‘Car il y a de la sorcellerie dans les piles et silencieuses heroines 
de ses aquarelles. 

‘C’est extasiantes et extasiees qu’il fait toujours surgir ses prin- 
cesses dans leur nuditd cuirass^e d’orftvrerie; lethargiques et comme 
offertes dans un demi-ensommeillement, presque spectrales tant 
elles sont lointaines, elles ne reveillent que plus dnergiquement les 
sens, n’en domptent que plus surement la volont^ avec leurs charmes 
de grandes fleurs passives et veneriennes, poussees dans les siecles 
sacrileges et jusqu’i nous epanouies par Tocculte pouvoir des 
damnables souvenirs!*®^ 

‘Ah! celui-li peut se vanter d’avoir force le seuil du mystere, 
celui-lk peut revendiquer la gloire d’avoir trouble tout son sifecle. 
Celui-li, avec son art subtil de lapidaire et d’^mailleur, a fortement 
aid6 au faisandage de tout mon ^tre.’*®® 

jLorrain was a friend of E. de Goncourt, and it is not 
unlikely that the magic of this ‘transparence glauque’ in 
painting was first pointed out by him. We read, for in- 
stance, in the Journal oi the Goncourts 

‘Chez la jeune fiUe au t3^e de Memling, les yeux dans le plaisir, 
au lieu de se voiler et de mourir, vous regardent comme des yeux 
de rSve. C’est une clart^, une luciditd Strange, un regard somnam- 
bulesque et extatique, quelque chose d’une agonie de bienheureuse 
qui contemplerait je ne sais quoi au deli de la vie. Ce regard sin- 
gulier et adorable n’est pas une lueur,ni unecaresse,ilestunepaix,une 
s6r6nit6. Il a un ravissement mortet comme unepimoisonmystique. 
J’ai poss^d6dans ce regard toutes lesvierges des primitifeallemands.’ 

In Buveurs d'&mes (i 893)^<^7 Lorrain had already de- 
veloped the pseudo-mystical type of the Goncourts (which 
also resembles the type of Hyacinthe in La-bas) in the 
following way: 

‘La femme [Madame Lostin] surtout est extraordinairement 
curieuse avec ses regards d^au-deli, noyds d’eau et comme en all& 
dans le bleu intense des prunelles, tandis que la bouche i la fois 



3+8 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

sensuelle et sauvage lui fait un sourire de bacchante mystique; et puis 
j’aime son art, un art visionnaire et morbide, et la couleur dolente 
et le faire precieux et somptueusement rare de ses pastels; j’aime les 
navrantes tStes de decollees et de martyres qu’elle ^voque, inevitable- 
ment posees sur le revers d’un plat ou baignant, comme des fleurs 
coupees, dans Teau sanglante d^un verre en forme de calice; j ’adore 
enfin le bleu transparent et froid des yeux de ces pitoyables tfetes, 
ces yeux pardonnants et^s, oti je retrouve ses prunelles k elle, 
pareilles k deux translucides 6maux, et puis il se d^gage de leur 
interieur un tel parfiim de simplicity et de foi.’*®® 

These eyes, in which ‘luit et sommeille une eau si verte, 
Teau morne et corrompue d'une kme inassouvie, la dolente 
ymeraude d’une efFrayante luxureV®^ were precisely the 
eyes of Jean Lorrain himself, which Normandy describes 
thus: Mes prunelles glauques, caressantes, ext^nudes et 
comme d^faillantes en une interminable agonie". 

The obsession of homicidal lust is actually described by 
Lorrain in such precise and vivid terms that one cannot 
help thinking that he must have found his inspiration in 
4 iis own etheromaniac nightmares.^^*^ The customary 
allusion to the cruelties of Nero is, with him, very much 
more than a mere literary subject or pose : 

‘Oh! Neron buvant avec dyiices les larmes des martyrs, la volupty 
sinistre des Augustans jetant aux prytoriens la pudeur et I’effroi 
des vierges chrytiennes, les ydampsies de joie forcenye et fyroce, 
dont s’emplissaient les lieux infimes avant les jeux sanglants du 
cirque, et les jeunes files, les enfants et les femmes livryes deux 
fois aux bStes, au tigre et k I’homme!’ 

A very appropriate epitaph on Jean Lorrain, and indeed 
on all Decadent literature, is to be found in Colette^s Ces 
Plaisirs (1932, pp, 106—7): 

‘Je la connus [la Cavalifere], en effet, fyrue des prunelles trans- 
parentes, et quand je lui dis qu’elle partageait avec Jean Lorrain 
I’obsession des yeux verts ou bleus, elle se S.cha: 

‘Oh, mais ce n’est pas du tout la m^me chose. Jean Lorrain, il 
s’embarque sur des yeux verts, pour alien . . nous savons oh. C’est 
un homme k qui I’abfme n’a jamais suffi. . . . 

‘Le mot vaut mieux que son ypoque et que la littyrature de 
dix-neuf cent, boursouflye d’envoutements et de masques, de messes 
noires, de dycapitees bienheureuses dont le chef vogue parmi des 
Harasses et des crapauds bleus.’ 



BYZANTIUM 349 

18. In Monsieur de Phocas there occur, among other 
quotations, some lines from the Oraisons mauvaises of 
Remy de Gourmont which are filled with sadistic pro- 
fanity: 

Que ta bouche soit benie, car die est adultere, 

Elle a le goht des roses nouvelles et de la vieille terre, 

Elle a sued les sues obscurs des fleurs et dss roseaux; 

Quand elle park, on entend comme un bruit lointain de roseaux, 
Et ce rubis impie de voluptd, tout sanglant et tout froid 
C’est la derniere blessure de Jesus sur la croix. . . . 

In Princesses (Pivoire et Pivresse (1902) Lorrain ro- 
mances in the manner of Gourmont, Wilde, and, above 
all, of his friend Marcel Schwob (cf. Le Livre de Monelle). 
Incidentally all these writers came under the same influ- 
ences and had remarkable affinities of temperament and a 
conspicuous preference for sadistic themes. In Lorrain's 
Princesses is to be found the usual combination of pseudo- 
mysticism and cruelty, with Pre-Raphaelite subjects 
carried to extremes, for the author felt strongly the fascina- 
tion of a certain kind of bejewelled painting, stylized and 
more or less perverse, which was then in the height of 
fashion — Moreau, Toorop (who had a good excuse for 
appearing exotic, since he was the son of a Dutch governor 
of Java and a Javanese princess), Khnopff, and the English 
:^e-Raphaelites, particularly Burne-Jones. There was a 
reflection of this type of painting in Italy with Cellini, 
Costetti, and in general the artists who moved within the 
orbit of the ‘Cronaca Bizantina’ and the influence of 
D’Annunzio. 

La Princesse aux lys rouges is a curious translation into 
terms of Decadent art of Flaubert’s Legende de saint Julien 
Vhosfitalier. The virgin princess Audovfere, by the act of 
destroying flowers destroys at the same time, by witch- 
craft, the princes and warriors who are her father’s 
enemies each lily that, smiling, she tears to pieces in her 
lovely, cruel fingers is the body of a young man who falls 
in battle, each foxglove that she kisses is an open wound. 
But one evening, after a battle which has been fought near 
the cloister where this murderous princess conducts her 
operations, there comes to her a wounded fugitive; then 



350 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

from the flowers there begin to come forth groans and 
sighs, and the petals become like human flesh, and as the 
princess continues to break the stalks all round her, 
suddenly, from a taller cluster of flowers, ‘une transparence 
bleuitre, un cadavre d’homme dmergea’ : it is the image 
of the Crucified One, in which the princess recognizes the 
wounded fugitive. Imhis agony he reproves her: ‘Why 
did you strike me ? What had I done to you ?’ Next morn- 
ing the princess is found dead in the garden, and around 
her the lilies bloom again, everlastingly red. This idea of 
(the mingling of flowers and tortures is extremely common 
fin the work of the Decadents. 

La Princesse des chemins is simply a prose interpretation 
-Mi Burne-Jones’s picture. King Cophetua and the Beggar- 
Maid, with a special insistence upon the ‘ivoire tachl de 
sang’ of the girl’s naked feet; her eyes have in them ‘une 
flamme bleue vigilante et triste’.^^^ Jn the story La Prin- 
cesse au Sabbat there is a princess ‘tenaill^e par des grilfes, 
baiste, mordue, l^chde et chevauchee par mille bfetes 
invisibles’, like her sister, the Princesse aux miroirs — 
obviously echoes of Lorrain’s etheromaniac delirium. 

After the princesses come the princes. Princes de nacre 
et de caresse, and here also there are flowers and tortures. 
Narkiss, Prince of Egypt, so beautiful that his mother 
worships his cradle, ‘et des crimes avaient aussitbt entour^ 
sa naissance’, is a youth in the manner of Wilde. One night 
he goes to a temple where bloody sacrifices are performed : 
‘une atmosphere pestilentielle y r^gnait, lourde d’odeurs 
de sang et ae charogne, lourde de parfums de fleurs et de 
parfums d’aromates aussi’, an atmosphere so attractive to 
Narkiss that he ‘eht toujours voulu demeurer la . . . dans 
ces parfums de meurtre, de lotus et d’encens’. The young 
prince, as can be seen, is a typical Decadent, and comes to 
a thrilling end: he sees the reflection of his own face like 
a magic flower in the putrid waters of the Nile, and dies 
J there, among carrion and luxuriant flowers.^^3 It is a Greek 
myth interpreted with Oriental gorgeousness, a prose 
translation of a Moreau picture. Moreau also suggested the 
luxurious, blood-stained setting of La Fin d’unjour, which 
tells of a rebellion at Byzantium, and has the severed head 



BYZANTIUM 351 

of an Empress, crowned with jewels, as cul-de-lampe\ also, 
partly, of La Marquise de Spolkte, who is the usual type of 
praying mantis, murdering her own lovers. A gruesome 
tale is told of her — ^how she danced before the court 
dressed as Salome, how the aged Duke changed the per- 
formance into a real tragedy by having his wife’s three 
lovers, who were acting in the plaji, decapitated, and how 
he finally immured his wife in a cell, together with the 
three heads, having put poison upon their lips. The por- 
trait of the Marquise is taken from a certain picture or the 
school of Leonardo which hangs in the Ufiizi, and which 
Lorrain describes in the style of Huysmans: 

‘La mort de saint Jean-Baptiste, la d&ollation du Pr^cureeur, 
la l^ende de luxure et de sang dont toute la Renaissance italienne 
a eu comme I’obsession, H^rode et Salom6, les terribles figures qui 
ont tentd tous les peintres de cette ^que et dont les mus^ nous 
ont legue la dangereuse hantise. . . 

In the last story. La Princesse sous verre, we read of a 
gipsy’s violin which brings a curse with it (as in Les 
Noronsoff)^ and of a princess enclosed in a glass cofiin, 
who slips suddenly during its transport ‘de son lit de soie 
pile dans la boue grasse du chemin’ and has her hands 
devoured by Prince Otto’s pack of hounds. (In Italy 
Corrado Govoni (born 1884) made similar excursions into 
gloomy, algolagnic fantasies of this kind.) The portion of 
the book which goes under the title of Masques dans la 
tapisserie is dedicated to D’Annunzio. It has been ob- 
served^s that D’Annunzio took his Sonetti de le Fate and 
other lines in the Chimera from Lorrain’s second book. La 
Forit bleue (1883). 

The reader may be surprised that I have devoted so 
much space to an examination of the work of a mannerist 
like Lorrain. My reply is that this work, precisely because 
it is so hopelessly ruined by mannerisms, provides an ex- 
'cellent illustration of the common background of the De- 
pdents and of themes which were repeated at the time 
^th a sort of me^anical detachment. 

19. These same themes, enlivened, however, by an 
ironical imagination and by a surer critical taste, are to be 
found also in the fictional works of Remv de Gourmont, 



352 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

another of those writers ‘lascivious in word but pure in 
■^life’ so typical of the Decadence, an intellectual whose dis- 
like for action was rendered chronic by leprosy, which 
gave his face the repulsive appearance known as facies 
leonuna?-^^ Gourmont was a Decadent nourished upon the 
j spirit of the Encyclopedistes. His Physique de V amour — in 
which he sets out to demonstrate from the example of the 
animal world that those sexual practices which man con- 
siders perverse represent so many virtues among the inno- 
'^cent insects, and that in nature ‘tout n’est . . . que vol et 
assassinat: ce sont des actes normaux’ — is conceived in 
the spirit which caused Diderot to write his Rhie de Alem- 
bert (with its Suite de Ventretieri) and the Supplement au 
voyage de Bougainville with the addition of a good 
dose of sadistic theories. Belated Encyclopediste as he is, 
Gourmont mocks at religious superstition ; but he is also a 
Decadent, and as such makes use of religion in order to 
extract sensations from it. It is from this twofold nature 
that his particular half-humoristic, half-serious tone is 
derived. 

However much disgust Gourmont may have shown 
later (in Epiloguesf^^ for Sade, ‘le bourreau extravagant, le 
fou sanguinaire et stercoraire’, he made consummate use, 
at one period, of the litany of sacrilege, the sadistic 
mingling of obscene and religious themes.^^® Thus, in the 
Litanies de la rose (1892, reprinted in Le PUerin du 
silence^ 1896) he evokes false, cruel women under the 
image of various kinds of roses; in the Correspondances he 
twists the phraseology of mysticism to lascivious meanings, 
and in the Fant$me-duplicite (written from September to 
November 1891, published in 1893) he provides a de- 
tailed initiation into the Black Mass. The woman in the 
latter stoij is called Hyacinthe, like the corresponding 
character in Huysmans’ La-bas (which came out actually 
in I 89i).i2o a few passages will suffice to give an idea of 
the flavour of profenity which emanates from almost every 
image in the Fant 6 me: 

Damase — Sois la f^condit6 des adorations et des sourires et 
r^jouis-toi du supplice d’etre &ras& au pressoir, 
pour fitre hue, vin pur, dispensatrice des ivresses 



BYZANTIUM 353 

royales. Tout entiere, 6 vierge double — oui: et 
sois spiritualisee, beaute charnelle, et sois realise, 
intellectuel fantome. 

Le Chceur — Procul recedant somnia 
Et noctium phantasmata. 

Gourmont went further than any one in this employ- 
[ment of sacred and mystical texts for the purpose of adding 
a new flavour to erotic adventure, but as he was not a be- 
liever like Huysmans, his pages lack that sense of revolt 
and horror which breathes in all the sadistic abandonments 
of La-bas. Le Fantdme constitutes, as it were, ^jeu a cStSy 
a distraction from the erudite philological labours of this 
extremely learned connoisseur of texts. 

‘La curiosite la soutint dans cette epreuve, et nous epuisames 
avec methode tous les articles de I’evangile gnostique, sans que 
notre sant6 eitt notablement flechi. . . . 

*En notre etude de la th^orie mystique, si parfois des mots 
scandalisaient mon amie, je les interpretais k son intelligence avec 
toute la d^fSrence due aux textes des grands saints. Elle apprit que 
les caresses de la main gauche, ce sont les premieres soufftances, 
preuve du sacrifice accept^; et les caresses de la main droite, tout 
le manuel sanglant de Tamour: le baiser des epines, Tattouchement 
des lanieres plomb^es, la morsure adorable des clous, la penetration 
charnelle de la lance, les spasmes de la mort, les joies de la putridite. 


‘Un soir, comme je lisais la vie de sainte Gertrude, la vierge aux 
ingenieuses dilections qui eut le divin caprice de remplacer par des 
clous de girofle les clous de fer de son crucifix — et j’en etais k la 
page oti Jesus lui-meme, pour charmer sa bien-aimee, descendit 
vers elle, et, la tenant embrassee, chanta: 

Amor meus continuus, 

Tibi languor assiduus. 

Amor tuus suavissimus 
Mihi &por gratissimus. . . . 

‘Je cherchais la signification seconde des ces quatre vers — lorsque 
Hyacinthe m’apparut toute nue, me priant de la flageller. Elle 
tenait Si la main une discipline de chanoinesse, sept cordelettes de 
soie en detestation des sept peches capitaux, et sept noeuds k chaque 
corde pour rememorer les sept manieres de fiiillir mortellement 
dans le mSme mode sensationneL 

AE 



35+ THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

‘ “Les sept cordes de la viole!” dit-elle en souriant €trangement 
“Les roses, ce seront les gouttes de sang qui fleuriront ma chair”. 

*Je suis s<ir qu’elle eut I’illusion d’un grave martyre, d’une 
fustigation digne d’Henri Suso ou de Passidfe, qu’on trouvait dans 
leurs cellules ^vanouis parmi un ruisseau de sang et des lambeaux 
de chair attach^ k la ferraille et aux molettes du solide martinet 
tomh6 de leurs doigts la^ malgr^ leur volont6 de souflFrir jamais 
lasse — mais j’avais iti element, voulant bien contenter un caprice, 
mais non souiller de cicatrices une peau dont I’int^gritd m’^tait 
dibre. 


‘Ses bras s’abattirent autour de mon cou et elle tomba, m’en- 
trainant avec elle dans le plus memorable abtme de divagations 
voluptueuses. . . 

The ironical conclusion of this course of sacrilegious 
and sadistic experiments is that, whereas the man intends 
to make use of them in order to elevate his mistress ‘en 
intelligence et en amour’, she, on the other hand, ‘avait 
I’art et I’audace de clore tous les dlans vers en haut par un 
dlan dernier vers en has, suivant la logique de sa nature, 
dvidemment plus lourde que I’air spirituel’. Her life had 
merely been an imitation, a reflection of the man’s, and the 
conclusion, while showing the complete childishness of 
this game of sadism and sacrilege, reaches a degree of 
bitterness which is the one thing genuinely felt in the 
whole of this learned exercise. 

‘Je quittai la fendtre. Hyacinthe jouait toujours avec ses bagues. 
Elle dtait toute p^e: il me sembla que des rais de lumibre passaient 
au travels de son corps — de ce corps qui venait pourtant de td- 
moigner k mes mains son dvidence charnelle et sa vdracitd. 

‘J’avais froid, j’avais peur — car je la voyais, sans pouvoir m’op- 
poser S. cette transformation douloureuse — je la voyais s’en aller 
rejoindre les groupes des femmes inddeises d’ob mon amour I’avait 
tirde — je la voyais redevenir le iantdme qu’elles sont toutes.’ 

20. Another scholar among the Decadents, ‘une sorte 
d’encyclopddiste du xix* sifecle, un Diderot plus moderne, 
moins spontand peut-Stre, mais plus artiste’, as Henri 
Bdrenger calls him,^*! Marcel ^chy^. The art of 
Schwob is much superior to that of many of the Decadents, 
but his sensibility and the themes which inspired him are 



BYZANTIUM 355 

just the same. Varying estimates might be made of the 
sharpening effect upon his sensibility of the tuberculosis 
which was to bring his career to an untimely end, and of 
the importance of the influence upon his inspiration of his 
great passion for a consumptive girl, Louise (Vise), which 
is unforgettably recorded in Le Livre de Monelle (1894). 
The love-letters of Schwob are reminiscent of those of 
jKeats in the quality of their anguished sensuality, mingled 
with ideas of death and drunken with self-surrender. One 
of these letters was described by Pierre Champion^22 as ‘le 
plus grand trait de lumifere qu’un homme puisse projeter 
sur lui-mSme’. In it Schwob turns upon himself in this 
way, addressing his future wife: 

‘Crois que je ne suis pas laible — mais tu es trop forte pour moi — 
tu m’as terrass 4 . Que ce ne soit pas un jeu, ou que toi-m6me, tu 
me joues centre la mort Entends-tu? Tes petites paroles sous tes 
cheveux sont les degrds tendres de Tescalier par oil je descendia! 
sous la terre. Je ne peux pas te dire que je t’aime. — Ce n’est pas 
assez fort*, je meurs de toi, et tu me fois mourir de toi. Ecrase-moi 
sous tes pieds.’ 

Edmond de Goncourt immediately detected a kindred 
spirit in Schwob: 

‘Vous fetes I’evocateur magique de I’antiquite, de cette antiquitfe 
hfeliogabalesque k laquelle vont les imaginations des penseuis et les 
pinceaux des peintres, de ces decadences et de ces fins de vieux 
mondes, mystferieusement perverses et macabres.* 

In his capacity of scholar, Schwob made passionate re- 
searches into certain Jaisande periods and aspects of the 
past; he, too, like Gourmont, was interested in the Latin 

the Decline; he made a study of the slang of the medi- 
eval criminal bands, and of the career of that strange poet 
of the underworld, Fran9ois Villon; he disinterred from 
old texts and archives the figures of vagabonds, eunuchs, 
brigands, criminals; he had a strong feeling for what 
Flaubert had called ‘la vieille po^sie de la corruption et de 
la v^nalit^’, and an adoration for certain historic prostitutes 
— ^Theodota, the youthful concubine of Alcibiades, Anne, 
the prostitute who helped De Quincey, the ‘petite prosti- 
tute’ whom Napoleon, at the age of eighteen, met at the 
Palais Royal, and little Nelly who consoled the convict 



356 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Dostoievsky; he felt the charm of the medieval fillettes com- 
munes^ ‘celles qui hantent k I’entour des villes de France, 
assises sur les pierres des cimetiferes, pour donner du plaisir k 
ceux qui passent’; he translated Moll Flanders \ he investi- 
gated grisly, mysterious episodes of the Middle Ages, the 
Crusade of the Innocents, stories of lepers, of victims of 
the plague, of beggars/- folklore of a ghastly kind; and he 
followed with interest the criminal trials of his own day. 
The story of the incest of Annabella and Giovanni in 
JFord’s 'Tis pity she *s a Whore found in him a fervent 

admirer.*^* 

Schwob’s tales, written under the influence especially of 
Poe, might, with more reason than those of Villiers de 
risle-Adam, be called Contes cruels\ as with Villiers, in 
close conjunction with monstrous and gruesome themes 
there are to be found others which have a sinister humour 
(in these his influence was Mark Twain). The funda- 
mental tone of his work is decidedly sadistic, and visions 
^of an algolagnic character abound. Examples of this are 
to be found in the volume Cceur double, his first collec- 
tion of tales (i 8 9 1), in Arachne\ U Homme double (in which 
reappears the decapitated woman of Baudelaire’s Une 
Martyre)\ in La Vendeuse d‘ambre\ Le ^ papier rouge' \ Fleur 
de cinq-pierres (the love-affair of the daughter of an exe- 
cutioner with a murderer, in the very storehouse in which 
the guillotine is kept — a similar theme to that treated by 
Janin in the chapter entitled Le Baiser in UAne mort) \ in 
Le Roi au masque A or (1892), in which, as well as the 
influence of Poe and of Flaubert can be seen that of the 
fables of Wilde this is the tale which gives its name to 
the volume and which presents in mythical form a pro- 
foundly personal theme; also in the other tales in this 
volume, L'Incendie terrestre, Les Embaumeuses, Les Faulx- 
visaiges, Les Milesiennes, Le Sabbat de Mofflaines, Blanche 
la sanglante. Just as the Legende des gueux in Le Cceur 
double is a kind of ‘ 16 gende des sifecles’ exemplified in 
episodes of crime in every century, so Les Vies imapnaires 
(i 896) evokes, throughout history, the lives of abnormals, 
iaf prostitutes^ of pirat^ In Craths, cynique, the central 
theme is one of coprophily, in Septima, incantatrice, of 



BYZANTIUM 357 

tiecrophily, in Clodia and in Cyril Tourneur^ of incest, in 
Petroney of Jipmosexuality, in Nicolas Loyseleur^ in Alain le 
gentil^ and in MM. Burke et Hare^ assassins^ of sadism, and 
in Katherine la dentelliere^ fille amoureuse^ of prostitution. 
Many of the protagonists of these lives end by being bar- 
barously murdered, for the sake of money, by their own 
lovers. Clodia: 

‘Un ouvrier foulon I’avait payee d’un quart d’as; il la guetta au 
crepuscule de I’aube dans Tallee, pour le lui reprendre et Fetrangla. 
Puis il jeta son cadavre, les yeux grands ouverts, dans I’eau jaune 
du Tibre.’ 

Petronius : 

‘Un grassateur ivre lui avait enfonce une large lame dans le cou, 
tandis qu’ils gisaient ensemble, en rase campagne, sur les dalles 
d’un caveau abandonneF 

Katherine : 

‘Une nuit un ruffian qui contrefaisait Phomme de guerre, coupa 
la gorge de Museau pour lui prendre sa ceinture. Mais il n’y 
trouva pas de bourse.’ 

Many of the characters renounce a life of ease, in order 
Jto give themselves up, intoxicated with humiliation and 
degradation, to vagabondage, low debauchery, and the 
voluptuous joys of squalor. 

The story entitled Les Faulx-visaiges^ in which the 
writer piles up into a dazzling whole various passages 
taken from the chroniclers (particularly Mathieu d^Es- 
couchy) relating to massacres and rapine, gives a picture 
of the Middle Ages as the morbid imagination of Schwob 
saw them : 

‘Les ficorcheurs, Armagnacs, Gascons, Lombards, ficossais, 
revenaient par bandes de la terrible bataille de Saint-Jacques, et ils 
avaient roti les jambes des paysans tout le long de la route, ... Tra- 
versant les villes le plus rarement qu’ils pouvaient, ils se ruaient aux 
etuves, biillonnaient la maitresse, jetaient la pailie par les fen^tres, 
for^aient les fillettes sur les bahuts, et, tordant les clefs des portes 
dans leurs serrures obscenes, partaient en tumulte a la lueur des 

falots D’ordinaire ils preferaient les fillettes communes assises 

aux portes des bonnes villes, le soir, ^ Force des cimetieres. Elies 
n’avaient qu’une cotte et une chemise, , , . Elies couchaient k Fair, 
entre les fosses, dans Feau croupissante. Elies revaient le sol jonche 



358 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

de paille des 6tuves, dans quelque rue noire. Les guetteurs de 
chemins, batteurs k loyer, 6pieurs et feusses gens de guerre, les 
emmenaient un peu de temps, et parfois ne leur coupaient pas la 
gorge. . . . Venaient aussi quelquesvagabondsquiavaientdtddercs. . . 
ils menaient un ou deux pauvres en^ts dont ils avaient sci4 les 
jambes prfe des pieds et arrachd les yeux, qu’ils montraient pour 
apitoyer les passants tandis^qu’ils jouaient de la vielle. . . . Puis, dans 
le mois de novembre, arriverent k la suite de ces tralnards de mys- 
t^rieuses figures nocturnes. . . . Ces hommes de nuit se distinguaient 
des autres par une habitude terrifiante et inconnue: ils avaient 
leurs visages converts de feux-visages. . . . Ces Faulx-Visaiges 
tuaient cruellement, 4ventrant les femmes, piquant les enfents aux 
fourches, cuisant les hommes k de grandes broches pour leur &ire 
confesser les cachettes d’argent, peignant les cadavres de sang 
pour api^tir les mdtairies et les rdduire par la peur. Ils avaient avec 
eux des fillettes prises le long des cimetibres, qu’on entendait hurler 
dans la nuit Personne ne savait s’ils parlaient Ils surgissaient du 
mystbre et massacraient en silence.’ 

In Le Livre de Monelle Schwob sketches, in short fables, 
the portraits of young girls ‘tourmentdes d’dgoisme et de 
volupt^ et de cruautd et d’orgueil et de patience et de 
piti6’: they are like younger sisters, like so many different 
aspects of the one and only Monelle, the dead love whom 
Schwob exalts to the proportions of a symbolic figure of 
the ideal courtesan — ^a decadent Beatrice, almost, sublima- 
tion of the theme of the little prostitute by which he was 
obsessed. Among these portraits of young girls, which he 
surrounds with a light that is melancholy and often per- 
verse (for example La Foluftueuse, La Perverse), U In- 
sensible must be mentioned here because it deals with a 
theme which is characteristic of the Decadence, the theme 
of Salome. 

In this fable the Princess Morgane goes to a distant 
country of the East in search of a ‘veritable miroir’, and 
after a pilgrimage through countries inhabited by men 
with monstrous customs (like some of those which are 
illustrated in Flaubert’s Tentatiori), arrives at an inn which 
in old times had been ‘la demeure d’une reine cruelle’. 
This queen, who is not named in the story, is none other 
than Salome, and as soon as the Princess Morgane has 
looked at herself in the copper charger which is still filled 



BYZANTIUM 359 

with the blood of the decapitated saint, she becomes cruel 
and voluptuous, instead of, as till then she had believed 
herself to be, insensible: 

‘Personne ne sait ce que la princesse Morgane vit dans le miroir 
de sang. Mais sur la route du retour ses muletiers furent trouv& 
assassin^, un k un, chaque nuit, leur fece grise tourn6e vers le ciel, 
apr^ qu’ils avaient p^n^tr6 dans la litjpre. Et on nomma cette 
princesse Morgane la Rouge, et elle fut une femeuse prostitufe 
et une terrible egorgeuse d’hommes.’ 

21 . Gourmont’s Hyacinthe, ‘si jexme encore, toute 
frSle d’une puret6 ath6nienne et si pleine de la grdce des 
inconscientes jfeves’, who came of a ‘race morte au monde 
depuis des sifecles — Fleur d’automne et la derniere . . . rose 
pench^e sur une rivifere d’ombre’, is an adolescent with 
‘chair d’ostensoir’ such as one frequently meets in the 
works of the Decadents. She is like B^^nice in Le Jardin 
de Berenice, by Barrfes (i 89 1), an author who is even more 
3 ^nd than Gourmont of metaphysical subtleties and refine- 
ments of sadism — a sadism more ethereal and more highly 
concentrated, but no less obvious.^^s 

B^r^nice is one of those ‘r6voltdes dont I’S^cret^ et la 
beaut^ pi^tin^e serrent le coeur’; Barres delights in seeingr 
\her sviflFer and languish, and surrounds her ‘d’une desola- 
tion incomparable’, in the malarial region of Aigues- 
Mortes — a young girl, ‘harmonique a ce pays’, dying 
against a background of fever-swamps. Then he devises 
a further torture by transporting her to Toledo: 

‘Si la mdesse de Tolede ne suffisait pas pour opprimer Berenice 
et pour nous la faire attendrissante, ainsi qu’il est n&essaire, par 
un dernier trait nous saurions I’affliger: dans cette ville cuite et 
recuite, ob I’odeur de benjoin qui vient des rochers rejoint I’odeur 
des cierges qui sort de Pimmense cathedrale, nous montrerions 
I’enfiint afemee.’^®* 

At the end he displays ‘cette petite libertine’ in her 
Heath-agony, and then dead: 

*Mon inclination ne sera jamais sincere qu’envers ceux de qui la 
beaut6 fut humili^; souvenirs d6cri&, enfants froiss&s, sentiments 
offens&, . . . Quand B^r^nice ^tait petite fille, dans mon d&ir de 
I’aimer, j’avais beaucoup regrett^ qu’elle n’efit pas quelque infirmitd 
physique Au moins pour int^resser mon coeur avait-elle sa misbre 



36 o the romantic AGONY 

morale. Une tare dans ce que je prefere k tout, une brutalite sur 
un faible, en me prouvant le d&ordre qui est dans la nature, flattent 
ma plus chere manie d’esprit et, d’autre part, me font comma une 
loi d’aimer le pauvre 6tre injuri6 pour retablir, s’il est possible, 
rharmonie naturelle en lui vioMe.’^^^ 

The excuse he offers is a specious one, but the feeling 
v/for tainted beauty is profound in Barres. To make the 
faisandage even more subtle, B^r^nice is ‘toute ramassde 
dans Tamour d^un mort', her dead lover, and Philippe is 
like a voyeur who spies into the interior life of this melan- 
choly girl, longing to share in it, to ‘promener’ his hands 
‘sur son ime passionn^e\ In certain respects Barres antici- 
pates the Proust of the liaison with Albertine. In Un 
Homme lihre (1889) we read:*^^ 

*Peut-6tre serai t-ce le bonheur d’avoir une maitresse jeune et 
impure, vivant au dehors, tandis que moi je ne bougerais jamais. 
Elle viendrait me voir avec ardeurj mais chaque fois, ^ la derniere 
minute, me pressant dans ses bras, elle me montrerait un visage si 
triste, et son silence serait tel que je croirais venu le jour de sa 
derniere visite. Elle reviendrait, mais perp^tuellement j’aurais 
vingt-quatre heures d’angoisse entre chacun de nos rendez-vous, 
avec le coup de massue de Fabandon suspendu sur ma tfete. M^me 
il faudrait qu’elle arrivit un jour apres un long retard, et qu’elle 
prolongeit ainsi cette heure d’agonie oCi je guette son pas dans le 
petit escalier. Peut-6tre serait-ce le bonheur, car, dans une vie 
jamais distraite, une telle tension des sentiments ferait Punite. Ce 
serait une vie systematis^e. 

‘Ma maitresse, loin de moi, ne serait pas heureuse; elle subirait 
une passion vigoureuse ^ laquelle parfois elle r^pondrait, tant est 
faible la chair, mais en tournant son ime d&esperee vers moi, 
Et j’aurais un plaisir ineffable k lui expliquer avec des mots d’amer- 
tume et de tendresse les pures doctrines du qui^tisme: “Qu’importe 
ce que fait notre corps, si notre ime n’y consent pas!” Ah! Simon, 
combien j’aimerais 6tre ce malheureux consolateur-1^.’ 

There is also the inevitable mingling of sacred and pro- 
fane: 

‘Elle serait pieuse. Elle et moi, malgre nos p&h&, nous baiserions 
la robe de la Vierge.’ 

And an insistence on the melancholy side of this 
sensuality of a buveur d'dmesi 

‘Elle serait jeune, belle fille, avec des genoux fins, un corps ayant 



BYZANTIUM 361 

une Hgne franche et un sourire imprevu infiniment touchant de 
sensualite triste, Elle serait v^tue d’etoiFes souples et un jour, k 
peine entree, je la vois qui me desole de sanglots sans cause, en 
cachant centre moi son fin visage.’ 

Among the devices which he imagines^^^ in order to 
^aiguillonner’ his erotic sensations are the following 
‘spiritual exercises’ : 

‘1° Se repr&enter TObjet, de chair aeiicate et de gestes cares- 
sants, aux bras d’un homme brutal, et pim^e de cette brutality 
m6me, embellissant ses yeux de miserables larmes de volupte, qu’elle 
n’eut du verser que sainte et honorant Dieu k mes cot&. . . . 

‘2®. Se repr&enter qu’ayant fait le bonheur de beaucoup d’in- 
differents qui tous TaWmeront un peu, elle deviendra vieille et 
dedaignee, sans revanche possible.^30 

‘M’abandonnant k une bonte triste et sensuelle, je souffrais de 
cette fatalite oil son beau corps engrene ^taitchaque jour froisse,etc.’ 

j These characteristics, and the necessity of representing 
‘the Object’ to himself as an abnormal, infamous being 

(‘Seule son infdme ing^niosite m’interessait k elle, et je la lui 
reprochais, me plaisant a lui detailler tout haut, combien elle violait 
les lois ordinaires de la nature et de la bienseance’) 

have an exact parallel in the works of Sade. 

Resembling Chateaubriand, perhaps, more closely than 
any other writer (Chateaubriand who, as Gourmont re- 
marked, 1 ‘plane invisible sur toute notre litterature’), 
Barres dwells upon the subject of incest in Un Amateur 
d^ames 

‘[Delrio] en vint k songer k une fille que son pere avait eue d’un 
amour adultere. 

‘Sa soeur! et dans sa dix-neuvieme annee! Ce souvenir r^pandit 
en lui un sentiment de fratcheur et de voluptd . . 

‘Elle [Simone] etait toujours v^tue de jaune et de violet, couleurs 
violentes qu’il preferait k toutes et dont les combinaisons le bai- 
gnaient d’un plaisir sensueL Par une bizarrerie d’imagination, il 
I’avait price de ne porter comme lingerie que de rudes et grossieres 
toiles; il lui plaisait que cette fa^on de cilice att^nue le liit constam- 
ment, dans I’esprit de la jeune fille, a une gene d’ordre si intime.’ 

Simone recalls the image of Dante’s Pia, and, like her, 
pines away in the febrile atmosphere of Toledo, which at 
the same time has a refining effect upon her: 

‘Delrio la caressait et la consolait, jusqu’^ ce qu’elle efit sous les 



362 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

paupieres des larmes qu’il baisait avec une telle compassion que son 
coeur se brisait delicieusement. “H me semble”, lui disait-il, “que 
j’ai plus de plaisir k te presser dans mes bras que n’en eut notre 
pere k te donner la vie”.’ 

Simone kills herself: 

*Comme elle etait belle, sa soeur, brulante, puis glacee de fievre, 
dessinant sous les draps sor jeune corps revoke par la mort! 

Tar un sentiment de pudeur et d’amour, elle lui disait: 

* — N’es-tu pas d6gofite de m’embrasser maladecomme jesuis ? . . . 

*Mais d’un ton tel qu’il lui r6pondait: 

* — 0 mon bel oeillet qui n’es plus la melancolique Pia. Depuis 
ton 6clatante et surprenante decision, combien je t’aime ainsi 
sanglante! et que je te d&ire sous ce pile et sous ce rouge de la mort! 

*Et les tendres gdmissements que lui imposait sa blessure se 
mglant k leurs aveux demi-etoufF6s, elle mourut en pressant contre 
ses petits seins 6clabousses de sang les mains de I’ami de son coeur.’ 

The following passage occurs in the Cahiers of Barrfes ;i33 

‘C’est le martjrre qui a fourni k la po&ie les combinaisons les plus 
di verses. II y a dans ces imaginations de supplices, je ne sais quelle 
sombre et etrange volupt6 que I’humanitl savourera avec delice 
pendant des sifecles.’ 

In Les Deracines (1897) the beautiful Armenian Astine 
Aravian, who is an incarnation of the Oriental, pagan type 
of love, in the manner of the courtesan in Flaubert’s 
Novembre (*Elle vient d’Asie et de regions myst6rieuses et 
parfumdes comme de belles esclaves voil6es’), and who 
bears in herself the exotic charm of Tiflis, the city ‘de 
mfeme infecte et parfum6e, c’est-i-dire sentant la mort et 
les roses’, is murdered in a sadistic fashion by two de- 
generates : 

‘Ce cadavre, ce sang et ces beaut& d6couvertes, dans ce tragique 
abandon, c’est I’eternelle Helene “tant admiree, tant decriee” qui 
une fois encore est venue du rivage hom6rique, avec le tr&or 
augmente sans cesse de sa fabuleuse beaute^ attiser dans notre sein 
une ardeur que rien ne satisfera. H61ene! mais du moins, cette 
fois, pour que soit compile son atmosphere de volupte, il ne manque 
pas au tableau I’appareil du carnage. . . . Une telle vie, k moins d’etre 
incomplete et mSme contradictoire, ne supportait que ce denoue- 
ment oil il y a du vice, de I’horreur et des accents d&esp6res.’ 

In spite of all the elaborate and meritorious structures 



BYZANTIUM 365 

with which, as an intellectual, Barres sought to cover up 
the primitive sources of his feeling, these latter are no less 
obvious than in Swinburne: it is an algolagnic sensibility 
vAvhich embraces both human beings and inanimate ob- 
jects. There is perhaps food for thought in the short note 
which is to be found in Barres* Cahiers^ and which seems 
to recall a similar passage in Flaubert :i34 

‘Enfant 6 lev€ dans un hospice, parmi de jeunes femmes k operer, 

j’ai aimd la douleur.’^^s 

Even in the first of his novels, Sous Yceil des harbares 
(1888), this feeling is proclaimed in perfectly plain terms: 

‘Lourdssoirs d’et6,quand sorti de la ville odieusepleine de bu^e,de 
sueur et de gesticulations, j’allais seul dans la campagne et, couchd 
sur rherbe jusqu’au train de minuit, je sentais, je voyais, j’dtais 
enivre jusqu’^ k migraine d’un ddfile sensuel d’images faites de 
grands paysages d’eau, d’immobilitd et de santi dolenUy doucement 
consolee parmi d’immenses solitudes brutalisees d’air salin/^^e 

Later (in La Mort de Venise) he says of Venice: 

‘Desespoir d’une beaute qui s’en va vers la mort, Est-ce le chant 
d’une vieille corruptrice ou d’une vierge sacrifice? Au matin, 
parfois, dans Venise, j’entendis Iphigdnie, mais les rougeurs du soir 
ramenaient Jdzabel. . . . Ceux qui ont besoin de se faire mal contre 
la vie, de se ddchirer sur leurs pensees, se plaisent dans une ville oh 
nulle beautd n’est sans tare.’ 

Aigues-Mortes and Venice are for Barrfes the land of 
hearths desire — ^places where beauty pines away in the 
->^imminent shadow of death. Siena also: ^^7 

‘Cette rude petite ville de Sienne, si pleine de volupt6, apparatt k 
I’imagination comme la recdleuse chez qui le Sodoma vint entasser 
les tresors qu’il composait selon les conseils de Vinci et selon son 
propre coeur, qui etait trouble. . , . 

‘Le Sodoma! c’est la voluptd du Vinci: mais le trouble qui nous 
inquietait dans le sourire lombard, ici g^gne tout le corps. ... II 
transforme dans son esprit les realites du monde exterieur pour en 
faire une certaine beautd ardente et triste,’ 

He feels this also for Spain, the thirsty land which he 
explores ‘ne laissant perdre aucune occasion d*Stre froissd*, 
Spain with its churches full of that odour of decomposition 
which is the breath of life to him, in which he especially 
admires ‘ces poupdes faisandees, ces corps ddshabillds et 



364 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

saignantSj ces genoux et ces coudes ^corch& du Christ’, 
and El Greco’s strange pictures, in which he sees hidden 
profanities and problematical incests: for example he 
^imagines one of the painter’s models to be his daughter, 
‘cette 6mouvante filvreuse’ whom El Greco ‘divinise 
mieux chaque jour’. 

Again, in Mes Cahitrs, he says:^38 

‘Mais surtout qu’ai-je tant aini6 k Venise, k TolMe, k Spartej 
qu’ai-je d&ir 4 vers la Perse ? des cimetieres.’ 

Certain of his titles, moreover, are eloquent enough, 
such as Du Sang, de la volupte, de la mort, or Amort ac 
dolori sacrum, which he justifies as follows: 

‘La mort et la volupt^, la douleur et I’amour s’appellent les unes 
les autres dans notre imagination. £n Italic, les entremetteuses, dit- 
on [one wouldlike to know where ! Cf. above, p. 356J pour feire voir 
les jeunes lilies dont elles disposent les asseoient sur les tombes dans les 
^lises. En Orient les femmes prennent pour jardins les cimetieres. 
A Paris, on n’est jamais mieux 6tourdi par I’odeur des roses que si I’on 
accompagne en juin les corbillards charge de fleurs. Sainte Rose 
de Lima . . . pensait que les larmes sont la plus belle richesse de la 
creation. II n’y a pas de volupt 4 profonde sans brisement de cccur. 
Et les physiologistes s’accordent avec les poetes et les philosophes 
pour reconnaitre que, si I’amour continue I’espece, la douleur la 
purifie. . . . 

*11 en va ainsi des roses et des fleurs de magnolia qui n’offrent 
jamais d’odeur plus enivrante, ni de coloration plus forte qu’k 
I’instant oti la mort y projette ses secrbtes fusses et nous propose ses 
vertiges.’ 

Later on Barrfes sought either to smother or to sublimate 
these spontaneous impulses, though in Un Homme libre^^^ 
he had said: ‘II faut que je respecte tout ce qui est en moi; 
il ne convient pas que rien avorte.’ There was never a more 
jjassionate Wagnerite than he, but in La Mort de Venise 
(1903) he issues a warning against the morbid influence of 
Tristan. There was never a more unbridled exotic, and 
yet, though in UEnnemi des lois (1892) he exalted the 
value of Maltfere’s love for the Russian, Marina (‘ainsi le 
sentiment qu’il gardait de Marina avait permis k Andr^ de 
ne pas s’enfermer, comme dans une cdterie, dans sa 
race’), in Les Deracines (1897), on the other hand, he 



BYZANTIUM 365 

adopted the opposite point of view, and speaks of exotic- 
ism as ‘un virus . . . un principe par lequel devait fetre 
git 6 ’ the ‘sens naturel de la vie’ of Sturel. The idyll with 
Astin^ is a recantation of the idyll with Marina (who was 
probably suggested by the same person).«o A Romantic/ 
by instinct, Barrfes longed to be a Classic: ‘Mon amour de 
I’ordre, amour auquel je m’oblige’^^i And again 

‘Engages dans la voie que nous fit le xix* sifede, nous pr^en- 
dons pourtant redresser notre sens de la vie. J’ai trouv6 une disci- 
pline dans les cimetiferes ofi nos pr^decesseurs divaguaient, et c’est 
grice peut-fetre & I’hyperesth&ie que nous transmirent ces grands 
pontes de la reverie que nous d^gagerons des verit& positives situdes 
dans notre profond sous-consdent’ 

From sadism to the cult of sublimated energy, placed 
at the service of cotmtry or humanity — ^the same parabola 
can be seen in Swinburne, in Barrfes, and in D’Annunzio. 
And even if, on final analysis, the very fact of this de- 
liberate aiming at energy shows an absence of any source 
of spontaneous energy, even if a ‘virility complex’ denotes 
a lack of virility, that is still no reason for underrating the 
moral value of the effort which these artists made towards 
sublimation. As to the aesthetic value of the works pro- 
duced by the painful method which they chose to adopt, 
that is another matter, ‘Amour auquel je m’oblige.’ 
Love — Manzoni’s Don Abbondio might reply — is not a 
thing with which one can endow oneself. No more is 
inspiration. 

22. Andrd Gide was saved ‘par gourmandise’, as he 
expresses it, from adopting a rigid doctrine like Barrfes, 
and from crystallizing into an attitude which was im- 
natural to him. It has always been his chief preoccupation 
to avoid any fixed anchorage: whether this inability of his 
to be consistent, this restlessness as of some one who is 
always on the point of undertaking a new journey, is not a 
form of anxiety-neurosis caused by a conftised sexual atti- 
tude, is a conjecture of which I do not feel inclined to take 
the responsibility. 

Gide, with his own ‘fond noir a contenter’, came under 
fth& dominant influence of Nietzsche and^Dostoievsky and 
the more special influence of Wilde, ‘j&tre ondoyant et 



366 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

divers’, du Bos^^ has described him — and perhaps one 
might add without further ado, a moral hermaphrodite, 
suspended among various potentialities and, in conse- 
quence, negative, sterile. A confession such as the follow- 
ing is symptomatic 

‘Non, dis-je enfin, d6sireux de Wen prendre position, I’action ne 
m’int6resse point tant parda sensation qu’elle me donne que par ses 
suites, son retendssement. VoilSl pourquoi, si elle m’int6resse 
lassionndment, je crois qu’elle m’intdresse davantage encore com- 
nise par un autre. J’ai peur, comprenez-moi, de m’y compromettre. 
fe veux dire de limiter par ce que je feis, ce que je pourrais fiiire. 
De penser que parce que j’ai feit ««, je ne pourrai plus feire cela^ 
roilk qui me devient intolerable. J’aime xmtvxfmreagircpiG d’agir.’ 

He has, on the one hand, a fear of committing himself, 
ind, on the other, as du Bos remarks, a violent desire to 
:ommit himself.^'^s In the former is reflected his psycho- 
logical ambiguity, in the latter the sadistic pleasure of the 
sensation of pride in one’s own humiliation, and of violat- 
ing and shocking the modesty of others, such as made 
Dostoievsky and his heroes burst forth into devastating 
confessions, and caused Gide to write Si le grain ne meurt. 
[One might quote as a more immediate source Wilde’s 
attitude to scandal, except that there is more seriousness 
in Gide than in Wilde.) The result of this complex psycho- 
logical formation was that Gide took up the attitude of a 
biartyr of pederasty’, *^7 thus satisfying his homosexual 
and his algolagnic desires at the same time. It is scarcely 
necessary to mention that the ‘Prometheus’ pose and the 
taste for satanism, the ‘ricanement int6rievir’,^+® which are 
to be found in Gide, are sadistic qualities. 

Certain passages from TJImmoraliste may be quoted in 
illustration of this. Michel, when he discovers that the 
Arab boy Moktir is a thief, instead of being angry, is 
delighted, and makes the thief his favourite ; he is fascinated 
by the corrupt peasant, Bute,i'W and by the poachers whom 
he accompanies in their nocturnal expeditions; at Syracuse 
he delights in the ‘soci^td des pires gens’ ; he finds pleasure 
— even a ‘savoureux bonheur’ — ^in telling lies; he possesses 
Marceline after a violent struggle in which he subdues and 
binds a drunken coachman (‘Ah! quels regards apr&s, et 



BYZAMTIUM 367 

quels baisers nous ^changeSmes he admires that 

miniature Heliogabalus, King Atalaric, who, suborned by 
the Goths, rejected his Latin education, gave himself up 
to debauchery ‘avec de rudes favoris de son %e’, and died, 
after a short life ‘violente, voluptueuse et d^brid^e’, at the 
age of eighteen; he proclaims that his merit consists in 
‘une esp^ce d’entStement dans le p^re’. The influence of 
^ilde, whom Gide had met in Algeria, is obvious; Wilde 
is to a certain extent the character of M^nalque, the cor- 
rupter, who preaches the cult of the Greek world and in- 
sinuates the Nietzschean principle of the right of might. 
lAnd like Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray — of 
which an echo can be discerned in this book — Marceline 
is sacrificed to the brutal egotism of the man. What, in 
fact, could be more reminiscent of Wilde than this idea: 

‘Cbaque jour croissait en moi le confus sentiment de richesses 
intactes, que couvraient, cachaient, etoufeient les cultures, les 
ddcences, les morales. 

‘II me semblait alors que j’dtais n 6 pour une sorte inconnue de 
trouvailles; et je me passionnais dtrangement dans ma recherche 
tdndbreuse, pour laquelle je sais que le chercheur devait abjurer et 
repousser de lui culture, d&ence et morale.’ 

The same themes recur in the Faux-monnayeurs (i 925). 
Little Georges is surprised in a theft, and becomes, for 
this reason, of special interest to Edouard (the character 
who represents the author himself), and all the more ex- 
citing when he is discovered to be his nephew. The 
incident which gives the title to the novel — ^that of the 
schoolboys who lend themselves to the circulation of false 
coin — ^is a sign of the same idiosyncrasy: the author en- 
joys the contemplation of the moral corruption of these 
seductive youths. One of them, Gh^ridanisol, sets an 
infernal trap for the weak, feminine Boris, with the inten- 
tion of leading him to commit ‘un acte monstrueux’: this 
act is the suicide of Boris under the eyes of his grand- 
father, who, in his desperation, develops theories of 
diabolical mysticism: 

*Et savez-vous ce que Dieu a feit de plus horrible ?. . . . C’est de 
sacrifier son propre fils pour nous sauver. Son fils! son fils! ... la 
cruaut^ voilk le premier des attributs de Dieu.’ 



368 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

In this remark old M. La P^rouse seems to speak like a 
character from Dostoievsky; and very much in the manner 
of Dostoievsky also are the characters of Armand and of 
Strouvilhou — ^Armand who, like the hero of Letters from 
the Underworld^ finds a bitter pleasure in degradation, 
abets and at the same time denounces the prostitution of 
his sister Sarah, contiaicts a venereal disease, and refuses 
to have it attended to in order to ‘pouvoir se dire, quand 
on commence k se soigner: “il est trop tard!”’; and 
Strouvilhou whose nihilistic ideas, instilled into the mind 
of his young cousin Ghdridanisol, culminate in the sacri- 
fice of Boris. Armand commits incest with his sister by 
proxy; in the morning he comes into the room where 
Bernard has slept with Sarah with his consent, and — 

Vavance vers le lit oil sa soeur et Bernard reposent. Un drap couvre 
k demi leurs membres enlacfe. Qu’ils sont beaux! Armand longue- 
ment les contemple. II voudrait Stre leur sommeil, leur baiser 
II sourit d’abord, puis, au pied du lit, parmi les couvertures rejet^es, 
soudain s’agenouille. Quel dieu peut-il prier ainsi, les mains 
jointes? Une indicible Emotion I’^treint. Ses levres tremblent . . . 
II apeiyoit sous I’oreiller un mouchoir tach6 de sang; il se Ibve, s’en 
empare, I’emporte et, sur la petite tache ambr6e, pose ses Ibvres en 
sanglotant* 

Here Armand is modelled on Dostoievsky’s Idiot; in 
another place he is possessed by that same ‘imp of the 
perverse’ upon which Poe, Baudelaire, and Dostoievsky 
had all dilated, and tortures his sister Rachel, who is going 
blind, by his revelation of Sarah’s guilt: 

‘Armand avait une main sur la poignee de la porte; de I’autre, 
avec sa canne, il maintenait la portiere soulevee. La canne entra 
dans un trou de la portibre et I’agrandit 

‘Es^lique 5a comme tu pourras, dit-il, et son \asage prit une 
expression trbs grave. — Rachel est, je crois bien, la seule personne 
de ce monde que j’aime et que je respecte. Je la respecte parce 
qu’elle est vertueuse. Et j’agis toujourS de maniere h offenser sa 
vertu. Pour ce qui est de Bernard et de Sarah, elle ne se doutait de 
rieiu C’est moi qui lui ai tout racont6. ... Et I’oculiste qui lui 
recommande de ne pas pleurerl C’est bouffon!’ 

The women in this novel, Laura, Pauline, Rachel, 
sacrificed and tortured, are remote descendants of Sade’s 



BYZANTIUM 569 , 

virtuous Justine. (Actually, here, not even Juliette could 
have escaped, for Lilian, who is by no means virtuous, ends 
by being barbarously murdered by her lover Vincent.) 
Rouveyre’^so makes the following remark on Gide’s female 
characters : 

‘Ses sacrifices religieuses, Gide les traite con anurcy et pourtant, 
cruel tourmenteur, il va jusqu’k refuser % la demiere et k la plus 
significative de ses hCroines (Gertrude de la Sympheme) la joie 
mCme de la lumiCre du jour, et c’est une aveugle que 1’ Amour 
voudrait fiercer dans ses firas adorables. Gide imagine que, une 
operation lui donnant la lumiere, cette ime, etrangement dCfaite, 
en est livrCe naturellement au suicide.’ 

Although Gide’s work extends to our own times, it is 
-An the Decadent Movement that it has its roots. We must 
now turn back in order to complete our account of De- 
cadent literature. 

23.''Rops, together with Moreau, is the artist most 
representative of the Decadent Movement. His im- 
portance is testified in the Journal of the Goncourts as 
early as 1868:^5^ 

‘Rops est vraiment eloquent, en peignant la cruautC d’aspect de 
la femme contemporaine, son regard d’acier, et son mauvais vouloir 
contre I’homme, non cachC, non dissimulC, mais montrC ostensifile- 
ment sur toute sa persoime.’ 

We have already quoted the passage from Huysmans 
upon the chastity of artists with licentious imaginations, 
which was written about Rops.^sa 'VV’e must again quote 
from Huysmans’ essay, because at the present day it is 
impossible to see in Rops’s mediocre drawings the 
‘terrible’ qualities which his contemporaries discerned in 
them: 

‘M. Fdicien Rops, avec une ime de Primitif Ji refiours, a accompli 
I’ceuvre inverse de Memlinc; il a pCnCtrC, rCsumC le satanisme en 
d’admirafiles planches qui sont comme inventions, comme symfioles, 
comme art incisif et nerveux, fCroce et navrC, vraiment uniques.’ 

His object, like that of Moreau, was to portray Evil\y 
incarnate in woman — portrayal which Rops intended to 
be satirical, but which, owing to his excessive complaisance 
with the subject, he could not raise above the level of mere 
illustration, often pornographic. 

Bb 



370 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Rops portrayed the triumph of woman as ‘demoniaque 
et terrible , . • le grand vase des iniquit^s et des crimes, 
le charnier des mis^res et des hontes, la veritable intro- 
ductrice des ambassades dd^guees dans nos 3 .mes par tons 
les vices • . . malefici^e par le Diable et v^n^ficiant, a son 
tour, Thomme qui la touche/ 

T1 a restitu^ k la Luxu^e si niaisement confin^e dans Panecdote, 
si bassement mat^rialisde par certaines gens, sa mysterieuse omni- 
potence; il Pa religieusement replac^e dans le cadre infernal oh elle 
se meut et, par cela m6me, il n’a pas cy66 des oeuvres obscenes et 
positives, mais bien des oeuvres catholiques, des oeuvres enflammees 
et terribles. . . • 

T1 a, en un mot, c^l^bre ce spiritualisme de la Luxure qu’est le 
Satanisme, peint, en d’imperfectibles pages, le surnaturel de la 
perversite, Pau-delk du Mai/ 

In the case of Rops also, the literary antecedent is to be 
found in Flaubert* For the whole of this Belgian artist’s 
work seems bent upon representing the symbolic figure 
of Lust and Death which is described in the Tentation as 
follows: 

T1 aper^oit au milieu des ten^bres une manifere de monstre 
devant lui. 

‘C’est une t^te de mort, avec une couronne de roses. Elle domine 
un torse de femme d’une blancheur nacree. En dessous, un linceul 
^toil^ de points d’or fait comme une queue; — et tout le corps 
ondule, k la maniere d’un ver gigantesque qui se tiendrait debout/ 

In fact, when Lorrain tries to describe the art of Rops, 
he gives the impression of paraphrasing the passage just 
quoted: 

‘Et devant tous ces spectateurs k groin de pore et ces spectatrices 
k face convulsee de goule, le souvenir d’une eau-forte de Rops 
s’imposait, une effroyable et justiciere eau-forte, oti la Luxure, la 
Luxure imperatrice du monde, est stigmatisee sous les traits d’un 
squelette couronn6 de fleurs, mais un squelette on peut dire sirene, 
car au-dessous des vertbbres du torse s’^panouit une croupe charnue, 
et deux jambes fusent, deux jambes rondes de statue ou de danseuse, 
qui ^pousent les reins en forme de beau fruit.’ 

24, Moreover, may we not now apply to Rops the 
judgement of Laforgue upon the poetical disciples of 
Baudelaire ? *Tous ses 61 ^ves ont gliss^ dans le paroxysme, 
dans Thorrible plat comme des carabins d’estaminet/ 



BYZANTIUM 371 

Maurice Rollinat, a sort of diluted Baudelaire, a 
methodical collector of horrors, is Rops translated into 
verse. As Maurras justly says,is5 ‘oh Baudelaire ^crit 
vampire, Rollinat met sangsue’. But the source of inspira- 
tion is always the same, the vampire-woman and the maso- 
chistic pleasure of her victim. Rollinat’s Nivroses (1883) 
contains innumerable ‘succions co’jvulsives’, innumerable 
Mesdemoiselles Pieuvre and Mesdemoiselles Squelette 
and Mesdames Vampire, and putrefactions, shudders, and 
profanities without end. It will more than suffice to quote 
Le Succube, which, though it does not reach the frenzy of 
certain other poems (there are dizzy plunges into the 
depths of the repulsive and macabre, for example in La 
belle fromagbre and Les deux ■poitnnaires)^ gives an idea of 
the predominant flavour of his work: 

Toute nue, onduleuse, et le torse vibrant, 

La fleur des lupanars, des tripots et des bouges 
Bouclait nonchalamment ses jarretibres rouges 
Sur de trbs lon^ bas noirs d’un tissu transparent, 

Quand soudain sa victime eut un cri dbchirant: 

‘Je suis dans un brouillard qui bourdonne et qui bouge! 

Mon ceil tourne et s’bteint! oil done es-tu, ma gouge? 
Viens! tout mon corps tari te convoite en mourant!’ 

A ces mots, la sangsue exulta d’ironie: 

‘Si tu veux jusqu’au bout rSler ton agonie, 

Je t’engage, dit-elle, k manager ta voix!’ 

Et froide, elle accueillit, raillant I’aflFreux martyre, 

Ses suprbmes adieux par un geste narquois 
Et son dernier hoquet par un bclat de rire. 

In another poem (A la Circe modeme) the lover calls 
upon the vampire-woman : *Harcble-moi de ta malice, — 
salis-moi de tes trahisons! — insulte-moU’ and so on. 

Rollinat used to recite these verses at the cabaret of the 
‘Chat Noir’, accompanying himself on the piano, his 
mouth twisted into a frightful grin, his face convulsed with 
terror and agony. By dint of repeating — 

Mon crine est un cachot plein d’horribles bouffdes. . . . 

Le meurtre, le viol, le vol, le parridde 
Passent dans mon esprit conune un &rouche bclair, 
sba 



372 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

he ended by making himself really fit for the asylum, and 

died there in 1 903.^56 

Rollinat’s house, as described by Bourget to Gon- 
court,*s7 gives an idea of his surroundings : 

‘Un hotel Strange, un h6tel donnant I’impression d’une locality 
choisie par Poe pour un assassinat, et au fond de cet h6tel, une 
chambre, oh parmi les mj:ubles tralnaient des vers &rits sur des 
feuilles h en-tStes de deces, et dans cette chambre une maltresse 
bizarre, et un chien rendu fou, parce qu’on le battait quand il se 
conduisait en chien raisonnable, et qu’on lui donnait du sucre, 
quand il commettait quelque m^feit, — enfin le locataire fumant une 
pipe Gamba, h t^te de mort.’ 

‘Les malheurs de la vertu’ and ‘les prosp^ritds du vice’ 
applied to a pet dog! With rather more suitability, 
Kollinat also represented cats as being sadistic, as may be 
seen in his Jalousie feline, in which a cat that had become 
hydrophobic from jealousy ‘d^chiqubte les seins’ of a 

beautiful woman 

RoUinat saw life in terms of a macabre etching by Rops, 
Albert Samain as .a languid decor by Moreau. He, too, 
insists on the voluptuous pleasure of tears, as had Rollinat 
in Les Plaintesx 

Sous I’archet sensitif oh passent nos alarmes 
L’toe des violons sanglote, et sous nos doigts. 

La harpe, avec un bruit de source dans les bois, 

Egrene, h sons mouill^ la musique des larmes. 

In Samain we read: 

La Vie est comme un grand violon qui sanglote. . . . 

In Samain are to be found the usual subjects — Salome, 
Helen, the Hermaphrodite (whose eyes are, of course, 
green : see U Hermaphrodite in Au jardin de V Infante), 
Lesbianism (see Les Vierges au crepuscule in Aux flancs du 
vase), the Black Mass (‘Le Bouc noir passe au fond des 
t^nfebres m‘aXsimt&'),faisande Spain, ‘du sang, de la volupt^, 
de la mort’, the litanies of Lust (written in i889);^59 

Luxure, fruit de mort h I’arbre de k vie . . . 

Luxure, avbnement des sens k k splendeur. 

Diad^me de stupre et manteau d’impudeur. 



BYZANTIUM 373 

Je te salue, 6 trhs occulte, 6 trhs profonde, 

Luxure, Idole noire et terrible du monde. 

Luxure, Tiare des C&ars pales et fous. 

Collier des grandes hetaires aux crins roux. 

Luxure, nerfs des nerfs, acide de Tacide, 

Luxure, ultime amour damne qui se suicide. 

Vierge d’or et de sang, vierge consolatrice, 

Vierge vierge a jamais, vierge devoratrice. 

Cite de feu — Philtre d’oubli — Vrille de fer. 

Vierge damnee et Notre-Dame de I’Enfer. 

Je te salue, 6 trhs occulte, 6 tr^ profonde, 

Luxure, Imp6ratrice Immortelle du monde. 

This sacrilegious hymn is a French reflection of Swin- 
burne’s Dolores. Again : 

Tes yeux verts, 6 ma Bien-Aim&, 

R^vent dans I’ombre parfumfe 
D’affreux supplices pour les cceursj 

Et ton nez irrite respire 
Dans Petouffement des odeurs 
Des fStes sanglantes d’empire!^^® 

It is not necessary to quote he Fouet (in Au jardin de 
rinfante\ and the dramatic poem Polipheme (published 
posthumously in Aux flancs du vase^^ 1901) in order to 
prove the close relationship of Samain’s particular sensi- 
bility to that of Swinburne. Samain, who lived an almost 
monastic life (‘La vie est une fleur que je respire a peine’) 
and was an affectionate son, died of consumption in 1 900. 

There was the same type of inspiration, the same 
manner of death also, in the case of Ephraim Mikhael, of 
whom Mendfes wrote 

‘Chacun de ses poemes est comme un b^icher de tr&ors flambants 
oh rfeve un Sardanapale environne de nudit& parses de gazes et de 
perles, mais un Sardanapale qui aurait dcrit VEccUsiaste. D^'autres 
fois, il fait penser h un royal afflige qui aurait verse, pleur h pleur, 
tout le sang de ses veines, dans un lacrymatoire d’or incrust6 de 
rubis et de chrysoprases.’ 

When they have nothing better to do, these poets em- 
bark upon subjects of profanation. It may be doubted 



374 the romantic AGONY 

whether the Jew Mikhael found as much enjoyment in writ- 
ing his poem Imputes as the Catholic Robert de Montesquiou 
in comparing his heart to a ciborium or to a shrine. Of 
Montesquiou, who was the model for Huysmans’ des 
Esseintes’'*3 and for Proust’s Charlus, it will suffice to record 
the following anecdote, related by E. de Goncourt:*64 

‘Whistler demeure, dans^ ce moment, rue du Bac, dans un h6tel 
qui donne sur le jardin des Missions fitrangeres. Montesquiou, 
invite derniferement k diner, a assist^ k un spectacle qui a laiss^ chez 
lui la plus grande impression. C’^tait dans le jardin des Missions 
[fitrang^res, la nuit presque tombde, un chceur d’hommes chantant 
des Laudate^ un chceur de males voix s’dlevant — Montesquiou 
suppose que c’dtait devant de mauvaises peintures, representant les 
dpouvantables supplices dans les pays exotiques — s’elevant et 
s’exaltant en face de ces images de martyre, comme si les chanteurs 
du jardin 6taient press& de leur feire de sanglants pendants.’ 

An amateur of gems and of handsome gymnasts of the 
ephebe type, Montesquiou kept portraits of Swinburne, 
Baudelaire, and the Goncourts as the tutelar geniuses of 

his library. 

Sappho is reborn in the dress of Baudelaire and Swin- 
burne in the Lesbian poems of Ren^e Vivien (her real 
name was Pauline Tarn, and by origin she was partly 
Anglo-Saxon),i6® but sincerity of tone succeeds neverthe- 
less in ennobling the worn-out perverseness of their con- 
tent. The image of white lilies crushed by cruel hands 
recurs with painful insistence all through her work (about 
fifteen volumes of verse published between 1901 and 
1910), together with other themes which make up the 
repertory of the Decadent Movement — ^green eyes, cruel 
faces of Amazons and Bacchantes, seductive corpses of 
women who have been strangled or drowned, scenes of the 
Black Mass, Spain in its guise of ie sang, la volupt6, la 
mort’, the Gioconda smile (‘Ah! ton sourire aigu de Dame 
florentine !’), the charm of the Andro^ne.* The following, 
from La Venus des aveugles (1903), is an example of per- 
verse Pre-Raphaelitism, entitled, in the manner of Dante, 
Donna m'apparoe: 

Lfeve nonchalamment tes paupibres d’onyx, 

Verte apparition qui fus ma B&trix. 



BYZANTIUM 375 

Vois les pontificats ^tendre, sur Fopprobre 
Des noces, leur chasuble aux violets d’octobre. 

Les cieux clament les De profiindis irritfe 
Et les Dies irae sur les Nativitfe. 

Les seins qu’ont ravag& les maternites lourdes 
Ont la difformit^ des outres et des gourdes, 

Voici, parmi TefFroi des clamours d’olifants, 

Des faces et des yeux simiesques d’enfants, 

Et le repas du soir sous Tombre des charmilies 
Reunit le troupeau stupide des families. 

Une rebellion d’archanges triompha 
Pourtant, lorsque fremit le paktis de Psappha. 

Vois! Tambiguite des tenebres evoque 
Le sourire pervers d’un Saint Jean equivoque. 

The theme of sterile, cruel love, emphasized from the 
very first lines {A la femme aimee)x^^^ 

. . . De longs lys religieux et blames 

Se mouraient dans tes mains, comme des cierges fr6ids. 
Leurs parfums expirants s’&happaient de tes doigts 
En le souffle pime des angoisses supr^mes. 

De tes clairs vStements s^exhalaient tour k tour 
L’agonie et I’amour — 

works itself up sometimes in echoes of Swinburne’s 
Dolores {Notre-Dame des fievreSy Tolhde)\^^^ 

. . .Vierge qui souris a la mort des vierges, 

Qui demeures sourde k Fobscur appel, 

Madone vers qui marines et v6pres 
Montent en grelottant, Notre-Dame des Lepres! 

Ta cathedrale . . . 

Sur les lits souilles de hideux hymens, 

Suinte la moiteur des mains de malade, 

Les ladres squameux et les moribonds 
MSlent leur soupir au cri des orfraies 
Et baisent tes genoux, Notre-Dame des Plaies! 

Tes tragiques elus ont incline leurs fronts 
Sous le vent divin de tes litanies. 

Et, parmi Fencens et les chants sacr& 

Et F^coulement des teres sanies, 

S’exhale un relent de pesrifer&. 

Le pus et le sang et les larmes plies 

Ont beni tes pieds nus, Notre-Dame des Riles! 



376 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Swinburne’s influence is evident in many of her poems, 
for example, in the one which has the English title To the 
Sunset Goddess^^^ which may be compared with Anactoriax 
L’odeur des lys fan6s et des branches pourries 
S’exhale de ta robe aux plis lasses: tes yeux 
Suivent avec langueur de piles reveries. . . . 

Tu ressembles li tout ce qui penche et d&line. 

Passive, et com^imant la douleur sans appel 
Dont ton corps a garde I’attitude divine, 

Tu parais te mouvoir dans un souffle irr6el. 

Ah! I’ardeur bris6e, ah! la savante agonie 
De ton 6tre expirant dans I’amour, ah ! I’effort 
De tes riles! — Au fond de la joie infinie, 

Je savoure le govit violent de la mort. . . . 

The artificiality of the themes is occasionally redeemed by 
some cry which appears, as it were, to be echoed from the 
depths of one of John Webster’s tragedies : ‘Tu te fl^triras 
un jour, ah! mon lys I’ That she was really aware of this 
artificiality was shown by Rende Vivien in her pathetic 
end, for she allowed herself to die of starvation when she 
was only thirty-two ^in 1909), but not without first being 
converted to Catholicism. The hermaphroditism which 
was characteristic of the fin de siecle could find no better 
illustration than that afforded by the close affinity between 
the inspiration of Samain and that of Ren6e Vivien. 
Apropos of this poetess Le Dantec'^i says; ‘Son 6nergie de 
femme est comparable k la langueur souvent mi^vre et 
feminine de Samain; ce n’est qu’affaire de dosage, et le 
r6sultat est identique.’ 

A very successful parody of all the poetry of this period 
is to be found in Let Deliquescences d' Adore Floupette, poke 
decadent^ by Gabriel Vicaire and Henri Beauclair (A 
Byaance, Lion Vann6, 1885). The fundamentally sadistic 
quality of this poetry is here stressed in the grotesque 
dialogue of the Decadents. The ideal of the Decadent is; 

‘Une belle tSte exsanguS avec de longs cheveux paillet& d’or, 
des yeux avives par le crayon noir, des levres de pourpre ou de 
vermilion couples en deux par un large coup de sabre, le charme 
alangui d’un corps morbide, entourd de triples bandelettes comme 
une momie de C16opitre. VoiUi I’^ternelle charmeuse, la vraie fille 
du diabler*” 



BYZANTIUM 377 

One of the speakers praises the Imitation of Christ and 
confesses that he prefers it even to Sade's Justine. But it 
must be admitted that the attempted parodies of Decadent 
poems given in the Deliquescences are much less frenzied 
than the lines which were written in ali seriousness during 
that period. How, indeed, would it be possible to write a 
parody of Nevroses} 

Feebler still is the parody in the lines The Decadent to\^ 
his Soul by Richard Le Gallienne (in English PoemSy 
I 892 ).i 73 He, too, stresses the taste for contamination and 
profanity which is typical of the period: 

His face grew strangely sweet — 

As when a toad smiles. 

He dreamed of a new sin: 

An incest ’twixt the body and the soul 

Then from that day, he used his soul 
As bitters to the over dulcet sins. 

As olives to the fatness of the feast — 

She made those dear heart-breaking ecstasies 
Of minor chords amid the Phrygian lutes, 

She sauced his sins with splendid memories, 

Starry regrets and infinite hopes and fears; 

His holy youth and his first love 

Made pearly background to strange-coloured vice. 

Sin is no sin when virtue is forgot. 

It is so good to sin to keep in sight 

The white hills whence we fell, to measure by — 

To say I was so high, so white, so pure. 

And am so low, so blood-stained and so base; 

I revel here amid the sweet sweet mire 
And yonder are the hills of morning flowers: 

So high, so low; so lost and with me yet; 

To stretch the octave ’twixt the dream and deed. 

Ah, that’s the thrill! 

To dream so well, to do so ill — 

There comes the bitter-sweet that makes the sin,^^^ 

First drink the stars, then grunt amid the mire. 

So shall the mire have something of the stars. 

And the high stars be fragrant of the mire. 



378 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

Let’s wed, I thought, the seraph with the dog, 

And wait the purple thing that shall be born. 

And now look round — seest thou this bloom ? 

Seven petals and each petal seven dyes, 

The stem is gilded and the root in blood. , . . 

I light my palace with the seven stars, 

And eat strange dishes to Gregorian chants. 

Here the old subject of the Miltonic Lucifer is no 
Jonger heroic, as in %ron, but has become elegiac. 

The most celebrated poet of the Decadent Movement 
in France, Verlaine, is a faithful mirror of his times. Open 
to all possibilities of depravity, he celebrates love in all its 
phases, from the most ingenuous to the most perverse. 
Coulon^^s very aptly calls attention to an early poem on the 
actress Marco, ^76 which touches all the chords of the poet^s 
‘integral sensuality’ : 

Quand Marco passait, tous les jeunes hommes 
Se penchaient pour voir ses yeux, des Sodomes 
Oh les feux d’ Amour brhlaient sans pitie 
Ta pauvre cahute, 6 froide Amities 
Tout autour dansaient des parfums mystiques 
Oh I’dme, en pleurant, s’an&ntissait; 

Sur ses cheveux roux un charme glissait; 

Sa robe rendait d’etranges musiques 
Quand Marco passait 

Mais quand elle aimait, des flots de luxure 
Debordaient, ainsi que d’une blessure 
Sort un sang vermeil qui fume et qui bout, 

De ce corps cruel que le crime absout; 

Le torrent rompait les digues de I’^me, 

Noyait la pens^e, et bouleversait 
Tout sur son passage, et rebondissait 
Souple et ddvorant comme de la flamme, 

Et puis se gla^ait 

Just as there are hints of sadism in Verlaine, so there are 
also to be found in him the taste for sacrilege and profana- 
tion (no poet ever made so much use of the words chaste^ 
chastete^ chastement as this faun who was expert in every 
kind of lust), homosexuality, even if only sporadic (‘Nous 
ne sommes pas Thomme — pour la docte Sodome — quand 



BYZANTIUM 379 

la Femme il y and, finally, the ‘fatal’ conception of 

woman; ^77 

0 la Femme! Prudent, sage, calme ennemi, 

N’exagdrant jamais ta victoire k demi, 

Tuant tous les blesses, pillant tout le butin, 

Et repandant le fer et la flamme au lointain, 

Ou bon ami, peu sur, mais tout *de mSme bon, 

Et doux, trop doux souvent, tel un feu de charbon 
Qui berce le loisir, vous Pamuse et Pendort, 

Et parfois induit le dormeur en telle mort 
Delicieuse par quoi Pime meurt aussi! 

In ExtrSmes-onctions^ one of the Histoires comme 
the various themes of perversion also occur. Verlaine/ 
descri.besjhe beauty of the body of ‘un jeune homme du 
jplus grand monde’ (‘Nu, c’^tait Hercule a vingt ans, 
Antinous ^trente. Trfes poilu, etc.’), which contrasts with 
the horrible disfigurement of his once handsome face 
caused by a formidable ‘coup de poing am^ricain’: he 
describes also this young man’s affair with a girl whom he 
had started in life: 

T1 semblait que la passion de la femme eilt cru en raison directe 
de Pepouvantable laideur actuelle de Phomme; laideur epouvantable, 
nous le repdtons, mais, insistons-y, laideur qui s’imposait. II 
semblait aussi que Phomme, par quelle loi fatale sinon infernale, ou 
divine! et qu’Edgar Poe eiit appelee; Perverse^ et par quel vertige! 
s’abtmat dans son etrange attraction vers cette femelle quil avait 
perdue/ 

The conclusion is extremely fin de siedei 

*Un jour, ou plutot, une nuit, comme ils revenaient de souper 
du cabaret, k peine au lit la fille eut un de ces caprices dont elle 
etait, au reste, assez coutumiere. 

‘La chambre tendue et tapiss^e de bleu avec un lustre d’opale, 
Pimmense lit, aux plus immenses rideaux clairement sombres, 
6taient engageants vers ces manoeuvres. Leurs splendides nudites, 
comme lact^es dans ce milieu lunaire, d’abord s’etreignirent, puis 
s’^teignirent, puis s’etreignirent k nouveau, pour, apres, Phomme 
s’agenouiller. . . . 

‘Alors, elle, tel le pr^tre catholique, dans le sacrement de Pex- 
tr^me-onction, console tous les sens, rassure P^me, ass6na son frMe 
poing naguere arme d’une arme immonde contre un simple visage 



38 o the romantic AGONY 

s6ducteur qu’elle avait dtform^ et qui I’avait dblouie, tua, dans cette 
genuflexion de lui, la tSte qui avait con 9 u ce ddshonneur-Ui.’ 
•^Verlaine (who counted Swinburne among his masters)^^? 
had intended to do great things with this type of subject, 
if he had been able. On May i6th, 1873, he wrote :i8o 

‘Je fourmille d’iddes, de vues nouvelles, de projets vraiment 
beaux. . . . Un roman ftrj^ce, aussi sadique que possible et trb seche- 
ment ecrit’ 

25. There remains the question as to why, during that 
period, the limits of which are variously defined between 
the early ’eighties and the opening of the twentieth century, 
there should have been, in France especially, such an 
abundance of writers characterized by the specialized form 
of sensuality of which we have been speaking. For even if 
fashion and influences both indigenous and foreign can 
account for a large number of works of a specific tendency, 
they still do not suffice to explain the original native 
qualities visible in the writers themselves. In writers such 
as Huysmans, Lorrain, and Barr^s, sadism is more deeply 
ingrained than can be accounted for by the mere influence 
of a cultural atmosphere.* 

Moreover this tendency is also to be found in eccentric 
writers such as P. J. Toulet, who, in the few but exquisite 
works which he left, deals with themes of cruelty in a 
decorous and elegant style rather reminiscent of the eigh- 
teenth century, a little like that of Diderot or Restif en- 
riched with the wit of a Voltaire (if one wishes to find a 
contemporary affinity, one cannot help thinking of Anatole 
France). In Monsieur du Paur (1898) the subject of 
English sadism provides a few extremely prurient 
moments; in Le Manage de Don Quichotte (1902) we 
meet Elycias the Inquisitor ‘dont les traits d^licats 
semblaient trahir vingt ans a peine’, a sadistic epicure who 
tells his own story, starting from his youth, to which a 
flavour of pleasure was given by frequent beatings, to his 
adventure with the perverse Gladie, who loves him all the 
more after he has foiled her lover and who, after being 
sold out of jealousy to a cruel Turk, dies under torture. 

One is forced to the conclusion that perhaps the un- 
•* limited licence to deal with subjects of vice and cruelty. 



BYZANTIUM 381 

which was introduced into literature together with 
Romanticism, created an atmosphere favourable to the 
expression of individual feeling, which, in different cir- 
'-cumstances, would have remained latent and repressed. 
It must also be remembered that literary fashion and 
specialized sensibility reacted upon each other, like 
burning-glasses, with multiplied intifnsity, with the result 
that, between the writer who set about to make the most 
of certain fashionable themes, and the one who found in 
the fashion of the moment an encouragement to his own 
native tendencies, and who, in disclosing them, increased, 
by his personal contribution, the intensity of the fashion, 
there sprang into existence that extraordinary conflagra- 
tion of cerebral lechery which occupied the end of the 
century and gave the impression of a genuinely imminent 
catastrophe. Even as early as 1866 the Goncourts, who 
were always interested in manifestations of vice,’^®^ had 

observed 

‘La mechancet^ dans I’amour, que cette mechancet^ soit physique 
ou morale, est le signe de la fin des socidtds.’ 

And twenty years later, apropos of a crime which had 
been committed, Edmond de Goncourt noted 

‘Ces neuf voyous qui, aprfe avoir viol^ cette malheureuse mar- 
chande, lui ont mis le feu au ventre, 9a fiiit peur. Void les Gugusse 
venant des marquis de Sade. Ce n’est plus un cas particulier, c’est 
tout le has d’une nation atteint de ferodte dans I’amour.’ 

His conclusion is an arbitrary one, but it shows to what 
'a degree attention was focused upon certain aspects of 
vice. The oft-repeated lament over the downfall of Latin 
civilization, the ‘Oh6! ! i Oh6! ! 1 les races latinesl’ of 
P^ladan, the conviction of d’Aurevilly that the race had 
arrived sa dernifere heure’, Verlaine’s ‘Je suis I’Empire 
i la fin de la decadence’ — ^such things show not so much 
the terror, as the attraction, of disaster: the very ideas of 
Decadence, of imminent Divine punishment like the fire 
of Sodom, of the ‘cupio dissolvi’, are perhaps no more than 
the extreme sadistic refinements of a milieu which was 
saturated to excess with complications of perversion. 

In process of time it has become possible to see that it 
was a question of mental attitude, of a momentary dizziness 



382 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

on the brink of a precipice, which, epidemic as it was, 
soon wore itself out into a monotonous routine du gouffre 
(to use Colette’s expression), rather than a real decay of 
/society: the year 1900 no more marked the date of a cata- 
' clysm than did the year 1 000. The philosophyjofSchopen- 
Jbauer, the music of Gotterdammerungy^^^ the Russian novel, 
the plays of Maeter^nck — all these were absorbed and 
digested, after doing no more than create an impression 
of a delicious death-agony. 

^ From about 1880 till the beginning of the present 
century the idea of Decadence was the turning-point round 
which the literary world revolved: 

‘Se dissimuler l’6tat de decadence oti nous sommes arrives serait le 
comble de I’insens^isme. Religion, mceurs, justice, tout decade. . . . 
La soci^t^ se d^grege sous Paction corrosive d’une civilisation 
d^liquescente. L’homme moderne est un blas^. AflSnement 
d’app^tits, de sensations, de gouts, de luxe, de jouissances, n6vrose, 
hyst^rie, hypnotisme, morphinomanie, charlatanisme sdentifique, 
schopenhaulrisme k outrance, tels sont les prodromes de revolution 
sociale.’ 

This is from a paper called Le Decadenty April loth, 
1886. A little later Huysmans wrote ‘Les queues de 
sifecle se ressemblent. Toutes vacillent et sont troubles.’ 
And Marcel Schwob wrote of this period (in the story Les 
Fortes de Vopiumy in Cceur double ) : 

‘Nous etions arrives dans un temps extraordinaire ob les roman- 
ders nous avaient montre toutes les &ces de k vie humaine et tous 
les dessous des pensees. On etait lasse de bien des sentiments avant 
de les avoir eprouves; plusieurs se kissaient attirer vers un gouffre 
d’ombres mystiques et inconnuesj d’autres etaient possedes par k 
passion de Petrange, par k recherche du quintessende de sensations 
nouvelles; d’autres, enfin, se fondaient dans une krge pitid qui 
s’etendait sur toutes dioses. . . . J’^prouvais le d&ir douloureux de 
m’alidier k moi-m&me, d’etre souvent soldat, pauvre ou marchand, 
ou k femme que je voyais passer.’ 

In this confession some of the characteristic aspects of 
jthe period are passed in review — schizoidism, disintegra- 
Ition, sadism behind a mask of pity (‘Ces modernes saint 
Vincent-de-Paul du sentiment, toujours k la recherche 
d’llmes souffirantes . . wrote Lorrain in Bwoeurs d’dmest 



BYZANTIUM 383 

‘Cette passion de charite un peu efFrayante n’est, au fond, 
qu’un sadisme d^licat et pervers de raffing ^pris de tor- 
tures et de larmes’).* ‘Tout decade . . — there were some 
who really felt this, others who sweated to add fuel to the 
flames and thus increase the impression that they were the 
fires of Hell. 


The period of antiquity with whijch these artists of the 
fin de Steele liked best to compare their own was the long 
^Byzantine twilight, that gloomy apse gleaming with dull 
gold and gory purple, from which peer enigmatic faces, 
barbaric yet refined, with dilated neurasthenic pupils. 
The writers of the first part of the nineteenth century, 
filled with nostalgia, had re-evoked the Imperial orgies of 
the Orient and of Rome, dominated by some monstrous 


superhuman figure such as Sardanapalus, Semiramis, 
Cleopatra, Nero, Heliogabalus; but on the threshold of 
the present century even this virile personal element 
seemed to disappear. The Byzantine period was a period 
of anonymous corruption, widi nothing of the heroic about 
it; only there stand out against the monotonous back- 
I ground figures such as Theodora or Irene, who are static 
toersonifications of the female lust for power. 

The Flaubert of SalammM had outlined the method. 


the necessary historical erudition was supplied by Diehl; 
and the Decadents devoted themselves to living over again 
the gory annals of the Eastern Empire, torn by dissensions 
and court hatreds, hemmed in on all sides by barbarian 
conquerors, a body full of bruises and decay enveloped in 
the symmetrical folds of a mantle of heavy gold. 

Attempts were also made to write popular novels on 
Byzantine subjects. The publisher Edoardo Perino of 
Rome, for instance, announced in the Cronaca Bizantina 


of December 13th, 1885, 'Teodora, a Byzantine historical 
novel, written by I. Fiorentino, illustrated by Giuseppe 
Pigna’, with the following seductive ‘pufF, the syntax of 
which, in the Italian, is truly barbaric: 


‘Theodora — woman who, startyig from the lowest ranks of 
the people, rose to occupying the seat of an empress on the greatest 
throne in the world, who presents in herself a strange mixture of 
abjectness and grandeur, of cruelty, magnificence and magnanimity, 



384 the romantic agony 

^ is a subject not less worthy of study than of admiration. Byzantine 
society of thirteen centuries ago, with its theological disputes, its 
^ Jierce pleasures, its strange crowd of eunuchs, bishops, captains and 
charioteers, thronging and intermingling round the Imperial throne, 
forms a most fitting circle round this fantastic figure.’ 

Apart from differences of style, Paul Adam and Gabriele 
D’Annunzio said exactly the same things in their descrip- 
tions of Byzantium, Decor is everything in these works, 
but it must be noted that the value of the decor is not 
purely scholarly. The meticulous catalogues of trappings, 
of objects, of acts, do not aim merely at giving an atmos- 
phere, The ferment of impure, violent deeds which these 
decors have witnessed underlies the descriptions of them. 
Objects become so many symbols of wickedness, lust, or 
cruelty. The decor in itself is already an enunciation of a 
spiritual and moral atmosphere. The essence of this 
civilization is well expressed in a few words which Paul 
Adam puts into the mouth of the ambassador of the 
Franks, in Irhe et les eunuquesi^^^ 

Tour la quatrieme fois, je reviens k Byzance. II y a plus de 
langues coupees, plus d’yeux crev&, mais le reste ne change pas.’ 

The scene evoked is usually the same, a mixture of 
carnage, of precious, exotic objects, and of the profanation 
of sacred things, Adam gives the tone of his book in its 
first pages: 

^Avant qu’il efit frappe trois fois I’image, elles se ru^rent, le 
d^chirferent apr^ I’avoir d^cortiqu^ de sa cuirasse et de ses cuissards. 
Ensuite elles tratnerent la masse de ces chairs effrang^es le long des 
€talages oh ceux d’Armenie exposent les soies de Chine et les objets 
venus par les caravanes des Nestoriens. . , . 

‘Le sang et les pleurs souillerent les sanctuaires devastfe. Les 
chiens avides emporterent des mains tranch^es dont les doigts 
gardaient les bagues en laiton. ... 

‘Les soldats s’armerent de tridents et le (Etienne) mirent en 
pieces avec sa dalmatique en fik d’or. Vers les eaux immondes, ils 
trainferent, dans le tissu pr^cieux et saigneux, tout le poids inerte de 
I’apdtre. . , . 

‘La plebe militaire . . . se plut h voir promener sous le soleil, 
autour de la Spina, dans le stade, des moines et des courtisanes U& 
ensemble.’ 



BYZANTIUM 385 

Great choreographic movements seek to disguise under 
a false sparkle of picturesqueness the absence of any real 
thinking. The following passage, a kind of long stage- 
direction, may be taken as an example of the final develop- 
ment attained by a form of art which had not lacked a 
certain nobility in the SalammM of Flaubert 

*Quand on eut ote les tapis suspendus |iux balcons de Byzance; 
quand on eut retire des facades les fleurs dej^ fl6tries, les draps d’or et 
d’argent, les coffrets d’^maux, les emblemes et les insignes; quand on 
eut abattu les arcs de triomphe, et ramasse en tas les petales de roses 
sem& deux jours avant sous les pas du cortege; quand les tavernes, 
sur le port, se furent vid^es de leurs derniers ivrognes ahuris; quand 
la fbule des p&heresses vint s’accuser dans les eglises en se proster- 
nant sous la galerie de I’ambon devant Ficonostase d^peuplfe de ses 
images; quand les palefreniers de THippodrome recommencferent 
k promener par la ville les chevaux par& pour la vente, et les moines 
k vanter les m^decines flabor&s dans les convents celebres par leurs 
miracles, puis k les troquer, au coin des rues, contre des legumes 
frais, des oeufs, des volailles grasses; quand les chameaux persans 
charge de marchandises s’agenouillerent k nouveau devant les 
boutiques des Arm^niens et tendirent vers les enfants amus& les 
grosses Ifevres de leurs museaux dignes; quand les magons se remirent 
k gtcher du ciment rose, en haut des ^chafaudages, et les commeres 
k babiller en se signant mille fois sur leurs voiles graisseux mais 
honn^tement croisfe; quand les fonctionnaires du Palais eurent 
quitt6 leurs allures d’empressement pour musarder a pas mous le 
long des colonnades, et se saluer avec des reverences hierarchiques; 
quand les eunuques du Gynecee imperial se furent remis k compter 
les depenses avec les billes multicolores de leurs tringles et les jetons 
d’etain jetfe sur les coffres; quand les esclaves alertes eurent apporte, 
le surlendemain des noces, les confitures de gingembre et les gateaux 
d’anis aux jeunes epoux ^veillfe, epuisfe encore par les 6bats volup- 
tueux, Irene ne se reconnut point.* 

26. The most monumental figure of the Decadent 
Movement, the figure in which the various European 
currents of the second half of the nineteenth century con- 
verged, was given to the world not by France but by Italy^ 
and by a part of Italy in which, more than in any other, ^ 
the general level of life is instinctive and primitive, a real 
Ttalia barbara’ — ^the ‘remota e inculta’^^^ province of the 
Abruzzi. 

Certain salient characteristics in D’Annunzio may be 



386 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

due to peculiarities of origin and culture; indeed he is 
always and before everything the child of a semi-barbarous 
race, who, coming into contact with a more than mature 
civilization, assimilated it rapidly and summarily, with the 
inevitable discords which result from such a process of 
imperfect adaptation.^®’ Beneath the veneer appears from 
time to time the spiritio crudo (raw nature). 

The veneer, however, is thick and shining, and at the 
first glance may create the impression of a parvenu of 
culture — ^like a barbarian who, exalted all at once to the 
throne of Byzantium, covers himself with all the jewels he 
can lay hands on. But his original attitude impresses its 
own character on his genius: D’Annunzio is primarily an 
Abruzzese who has made his second home in Tuscany, 
secondarily an Italian who has made his second home in 
Paris. But neither Tuscan nor French culture was native 
o him, nor an essential part of him : he had to acquire 
hem from the outside, since he was not able, by natural 
amiliarity with them, to understand them thoroughly from 
Jhe inside. He absorbed those aspects of them which 
:ould be most easily assimilated by his spirito crudo. 

‘From fer, fiir away there came to him a troubled yearning, from 
he most distant sources, from the primitive bestiality of sudden 
mions, from the ancient mystery of sacred lusts.’ 

[t is Stelio Effrena speaking the ‘mystery of sacred 
fusts’, though it seems to be mere rhetorical emphasis, is 
ictualljr a very good description of the raw nucleus of semi- 
barbaric sensuality which was D’Annunzio’s natural in- 
heritance. At the contact with French Decadence, the 
feeling for profanation, for taboo, which was innate in 
D’Annunzio, found a propitious soil in which to develop; 
cruelty in love, which served jthe Fre nch Decadents as 
stimulant to a naturally feeble instinct, was also an essential 
part of the ‘primitive bestialitj^’ of a semi-savage stock such 
M the Abruzzese, since primitive people are just as cruel 
as the ultra-civilized, the former from instinct, the latter 
^om mental erethism. 

A mind still clouded by the sediment of brutality which 
permeates the extravagant rites of primitive religions is 
more open than any other to possibilities of abnormal 



BYZANTIUM 387 

development. The lack of humanity which is usually re- 
marked upon in a very lar^ proportion of D’Annunzio’s 
work may be attributed, I think, to a meeting of extremes 
in the same person: D’Annunzio is a barbarian and at the 
same time a Decadent, and there is lacking in him the 
temperate zone which, in the present period of culture, is 
labelled ‘humanity’. The twofold n|Lture of this extremism 
explains why D’Annunzio has been a warrior as well as a 
voluptuary. 

Many people, especially outside Italy, have not yet been 
able to realize how it is that a Decadent, such as D’An- 
nunzio is believed to be, was able to conduct himself in 
arms in a manner so daring as to have made him one of the 
war-heroes of Italy. A Decadent, an aesthete, is, as a rule, 
mervous, a bad soldier. They forget that D’Annunzio is a 
"primitive as well as a Decadent. 

The stages by which this son of the Abruzzi became 
urbanized are well known. Literary fashions, at the end 
of the last century (I wonder if things are very much 
changed to-day) arrived in Italy by way of France. Keep- 
ing in mind the dates of certain events in France — 18 80. 
the apotheosis of Schopen haue r; the appearance of 

the Russian novel, thanks to the efforts of the Vicomte 
E.-M. de Vogii^; 1885, the foundation of the Revue 
Wagnerienne^ which canonized the latest musical craze 
(‘Le dieu Richard Wagn^ irradiant un sacre’, wrote 
Mallarm6 in his Homm^e)\ remembering also that pre- 
cisely at this same period English Pre-Raphaelitism and 
the gospel of Rus kin w ere received into high favour in 
Trance; and then comparing the dates of Vlnvincthile 
(1890), of Giovanni Episcopo and L'Innocente (1892), of 
II Fuoco (1900)— one can see D’Annunzio ready to wel- 
come all the latest novelties, his attention strained out- 
wards, anxious to receive themes, philosophies, tastes from 
jjutside. As was to be expected, he fixed upon the most 
specious aspects of these movements, and on the showiest 
artists. Lorraii^nd P6ladan were his first models: he 
borrowed certain of their "^most obvious characteristics 
from Swinbur ne an d Nietzsche, without penetrating into 
their subtleties or shades of meanii^. The delicate 



388 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

qualities of the more refined of the Decadents, such as 
Barrfes, Remy de Gourmont, Mallarm6, were entirely 
alien to him. The proof that D’Annunzio’s mind remained 
persistently rudimentary, in spite of his repeated experi- 
ments in culture, is his entire ignorance of humour. His 
humour is pedantic, verbal. Rabelaisian in character, never 
syntactic or Voltaireajj. Look at the description of the 
college years in Le Faville del MagUo, where the pedantic 
language is supposed to generate the vis comica', it is the 
most primitiveof all comic expedients, the purely linguistic. 

D’Annunzio’s habit of building up his own individuality 
from outside, of searching for himself in others, of appro- 
priating his various sources and reducing them to a 
common denominator — ^in the same way as those clever 
Southern Italian painters of the seventeenth century, of 
whom Luca Giordano is the most typical — ^has caused his 
work as a whole to have the appearance of a monumental 
/fencyclopedia of European Decadence. Wilde had at- 
tempted something of the same kind, but WildeTpassive 
imitator as he was, did not possess D’A-nnimzia’s power 
of giving unity to his vast machine. This power of 
D’Annunzio’s, which, in fact, constitutes his genius, is 
simply ‘carnd^y«fjthought’,*9'' the gift of being able to 
endow every thought with ‘a wei^ t qfblood’, the gift of 
the Word, which D’Anntmzio ha^ in aHegree at least 
equal to the great French writer who corresponds to him 
*n the preceding period — Victor Hugo. To put it briefiy 
—Victor Hugo is the D’Anmmzio of Romanticism, 
D’Annunzio the Victor Hugo of Decadence. 

Late in his life D’Annvmzio, passionate lover of the 
diversity of creatures’, of the ‘Siren of the worlds has 
solemnly reasserted his faith in the world of the senses, 
seeking to hold it tightly in his weakening grasp by 
realizing it, no longer in the form of words, but of walls 
and furniture, in the vast Pantheon of the Vittoriale. 
Usually the great spirits of the earth, once they have 
entered the shadow of old age, divest themselves of 
material things and regard as mere trifles the worldly 
possessions with which they have delighted to surround 
themselves in the fulness of life. D’Annunzio, on the other 



BYZANTIUM 389 

hand, seems to have tried to give an exact shape and form 
to his memories and longings by collecting round him a 
veritable museum of curiosities and precious objects, and 
by^ crystallizing in the form of emblems, devices, and 
hieroglyphics the diversity of a world which once he com- 
manded by the sound of words. This lust for possession — 
the lust which made him write at t^e bottom of a page of 
proofs: ‘(1927) Printer! I shall be young again! (1882)’ 
— ^produced, at the beginning of the century, the Laudi\ 
to-day, grown rigid but no less tenacious, it produces the 
poem of precious stones, metals, tapestries, in which 
Narcissus may see his own image exalted and multiplied 
and may have the illusion that he feels the warmth of life 
beating in his pulses, as in his younger years. 

Like Faust, D’Annunzio began by stamping his im 
pression on the world of thought, to finish by leaving it on 
nothing more than a small material world. This is the 
pathetic involution of a sensualist who, as Poet, Lover, 
Condottiere, had a greater share of the good things of the 
earth than has been granted to any one. The friend of the 
dMuses ends as custodian of a Museum — as D’Annunzio’s 
seventeenth-century brother, the Cavaliere Marino, lover 
of conceits, might have expressed it. 

In the Vittonale the Decadent Movement seems to have 
achieved a final monumental expression. It is Pdad^’s 
Monts^gur, Lorrain’s Noronsoff Palace, translated into 
actuality: at the Vittoriale, also, there is a ‘decoration 
pantheonique des religions’, a combined atmosphere of the 
shrine of Parsifal, of a princely palace, and of an aesthete’s 
paradise, with casts of Greek statues, emblematic trappings, 
Franciscan symbols, objects of worship and of war; a vast 
.collection of hric-a-hrac to which many different cultures 
tand periods, arts, religions, and nature herself, have con- 
tributed.*®^ All these innumerable and varied things, rare 
and curious, played an important part in the^ world of 
Gautier, the Goncourts, des Esseintes, Dorian Gray, 
Lorrain, and in that century which made use of every kind 
of exoticism and eclecticism to distract the restlessness of 
its exasperated senses and to make up for its lack both of a 
profound faith and of an authentic style. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER V 


I V Art romantique^ apropos ofTh. Gautier (p. i68 of the Calmann- 
Levy edition), but the quotation is there taken from another text. 

* Id., pp. II-I2. I give the quotation in the order in which it is found 
in the volume by A. Renan, Gustave Moreau (Paris, ed. Gazette des Beaux- 
Arts, 1900), p. 48. 

3 Id., p. II. Pater supi^uxw wiis: ‘All art constantly aspires towards the 
condition of music.’ Angelo Conti also illustrates this principle, in his 
book on Giorgione, and from there it was taken by D’Annunzio (II Fuoco^ 
Stelio’s speech) ; he had already commented on it in his review of Conti’s 
book in Couvito, voL i, p. 73 (‘Note su Giorgione e su la Critica’, later 
repeated as part of the preface to Angelo Conti’s Beata Riva, Milan, 
Treves, 1900). 

^ Cf. the essay on Moreau by A. Symons in Frm Toulouse Lautrec to 
Rodin (London, Lane, 1929), pp. 159-69; and especially a passage of 
Huysmans (Certains^ 1889, pp. 18-19) where he is speaking of the exhibi- 
tion of Moreau’s water-colours at the Goupil Galleries: 

‘Une impression identique surgissait de ces scenes diverses, Timpression de 
Tonanisme spirituel, r^p^t^, dans une chair chaste; Timpression d’une vierge, 
pourvue, dans un corps d’une solennelle gr^ce, d’une &me epuis^e par des id^ 
solitaires, par des pens^s secretes, d’une femme, assise en elle-mSme, et se 
radotant, dans de sacramentelles formules, de pri^res obscures, d*msidieux appels 
aux sacrileges et aux stupres, aux tortures et aux meurtres*. 

The painting of the Pre-Raphaelite Simeon Solomon is of the same 
character, upon which see Swinburne’s essay (now in Complete Works^ / 
Bonchurch ed., vol. xv), which finds Solomon’s epicene figures toTe 
expressive of the ‘cunning and cruel sensibility’ of Sade, et pour cause \ 
(cf. Lafourcade, op. cit., vol. i, pp. 214-17.)* On the minor poets of the 
English Decadent Movement H. Jackson (quoted below, note 91) says: 

‘There was an unusual femininity about it; not the femininity of women, nor 
yet the feminine primness of men; it was more a mingling of what is effeminate in 
Doth sexes. This was the genuine minor note, and it was abnormal — a form of 
lermaphroditism* (p. 163). 

5 Barbey d’Aurevilly, Le Roman contemporain (Paris, Lemerre, 1902), 

pp. 274, 275, 278, The essay on Huysmans appeared originally in the 
Constitutionnel 28th, 1884, 

6 A rehours ^ v. 

7 (E. comply op. dt., pp. 50-1. Ary Renan, in his apologia (op. cit.) 
of the art of Moreau, strives to point out differences between Haubert and 
Moreau: in the latter there is to be found, not an historical reconstruction, 
but a fantastic conception based on Oriental models. He '^concludes: 

*11 n’y cut, entre les deux artistes, aucun Change direct d’infiuence; mais il y a 
souvent parity dans leur optique, dans la percfe qu’ils ouvrent sur le pass^recuM . . . 
Dans Solammh^j qui parut en 1863, T^crivain ne s’abandonnait-il pas tout k 
Torgie plastique de la richesse n^cessaire, et n*a-t-il pas fait de sa Carthage le 



BYZANTIUM 391 

fabuleux magasin de tous ks mirahiUa du monde antique ? Puis, dans la Tenta^ 
tion (1S74) ne fait-il pas d 6 £ler, au son de vocables rarissimes, i’ideale caravane 
des dieux abolis ?* 

It seems difficult to deny the influence of Flaubert or at least of that type 
of exoticism, cultivated by Gautier and Leconte de Lisle, which was then 
in the air. At any rate certain of Flaubert’s descriptions, such as those of 
the Hindu Trimurti and of Artemis of Ephesus, in the Tentationy are un- 
mistakably verbal anticipations of pictures by Moreau. 

* Nevertheless Huysmans says in La C^thidrah (p, 331) that the 
Queen of Sheba 

‘n’a pu s’incorporer dans la Tentation de Saint Antoine qu’en une creature puerile 
et faiote, en une marionnette qui sautille, en zezayant; au fond, il n*y a que le 
peintre des Salome, Gustave Moreau, qui pourrait la rendre, cette femme vierge 
et lubrique, casuiste et coquette, &c.*. 

^ The figure of Salome in the sketch for the oil picture fin the Moreau 
Museum)* repeats a classical pose seen m the Spartan dancer in a bas- 
relief by Callimachus acquired in Italy (at Florence) by the Berlin Museum 
in 1892, described in the Jahrhuck des K. Deutschen ArckaologUchen 
InstituUy vol. viii, 1893, p. 77. 

I® Op. cit., p. 62. 

” This comment by Moreau (November 1897) is quoted in the essay 
by R. de Montesquiou, Le Lapidairey read at the Galerie Georges Petit, 
May 26th, 1 906, and included in Altesses sirinissimes (Paris, Juven, 1907): 
see p. 7 of this latter volume, and on pp. 55-7 Montesquiou’s comment on 
Kilhne and Salomd 
Op. cit., p. 78. 

13 In UArt modemey 1883, pp. 136-7 {Le Salon officiel de 1880), 

*4 It must be observed that the interpretation of A. Renan was influenced 
by Samain’s sonnet. La Lyre hirdique et dolentey by Pierre Quillard, also 
dating from 1897, contains a poem on Les Yeux d*Hilene dedicated to 
Marcel Proust, in which the poet imagines Helen as a young girl already 
burdened with the horror of her future destiny: 

L’effroi religieux issu de ses prunelles 
Ardentes d’incendie et de fauves clart& 

Saisit ^trangement les coeurs epouvant^s 
Et pleins de visions sombres et solennelles. 

Passe, vierge, terrible au col souple et nerveuxj 
L’inexpiable sang pour les skcies macule 
Ton front clair comme un jour d’ete sans cr^puscule 
Et la mort des h^ros surgit de tes cheveux. 

Passe, reine d’amour, semeuse de d^sastres, 

Dans ta robe de gloire et de ser^ite, 

Et vois fleurir les deuils autour de ta beauti. 

Sous tes regards pareils aux froids rayons des astres , 

Samain also wrote three poems inspired by the Salomi of Moreau, as 
seen through the pages of Huysmans: ‘Des soirs fievreux et forts comme une 
venaison — ^mon ime traine en soi Fennui d’un vieil Herode’, in Le Jardin 



392 THE ROMANTIC AGONY 

de r Infante \ *Mon cceur est comme un H^rode morne et pile’ (cf.: ‘Tel 
que le vieux roi, des Esseintes demeurait 4 crasd, an^anti, pris de vertige 
devant cette danseuse’), and HSrode^ in Le Chariot d^or (1901). 

^5 This picture obviously suggested La Diana dl*Efe$o e gli schiavi^ by 
A. Sartorio. 

Balomi was translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas and 
published with illustrations by Beardsley in 1894, at The Bodley Head* 
The influence on Salami of Maeterlinck’s plays was remarked by M. 
Arnauld in ‘L’CEuvre d’O. Y^ilde’, in La Grande Revue y May loth, 1897, 
and was the subject of particular study in E. Bendz, ‘A propos de la Salami 
d’Oscar Wilde’, in Englische Studien, vol. li (1917-18), pp. 48-70. 
There is also a dissertation on the subject (Munich, 1913) by F. K. Brass, 
0 . Wildes Salome* Eine kritische Quellenstudie. 

^7 Bendz says; ^L’amour de Salom 4 voiU I’id^e originale de Wilde, 
voili son coup de maitre !’ 

On the tradition followed by Heine cf. Reimarus, Staff gesckichte der 
Salome-Dichtungen (Leipzig, Wigand, 1913), pp. 46 et seq., ior-5. 

Quoted from Atta Troll and Other Poems by Heinrich Heine, Trans- 
lated by T. S. Egan (London, Chapman and Hall, 1876). 

20 In his picture entitled Capital Execution under the Moorish Kingsy 
Regnault treated the blood of the victims in the same spirit in which he 
had treated the jewels in Salami, like the ‘hail of rubies’ to which a seven- 
teenth-century poet had compared the blood of a chastised courtesan. 
^See chap, i, p. 37. 

Note that the way in which the name is written is that of Flaubert. 
In fact, Laforgue’s Salami (which the author had conceived as early as 
1 882) is partly a parody of Flaubert’s story. See F. Ruchon, Jules Laforgue 
(Geneva, Editions Albert Ciana, 1924), p. no. But the figure of Salome 
is barely seen in Flaubert and he gives it the suggestion of an artless urchin, 
so thf t it could scarcely account for Laforgue’s fantasy. 

“ A reboursy pp. 259-60. 

^3 A. Rouveyre, Le Reclus et le retors, Gourmont et Gide (Paris, Crb, 
1927), pp. 55-6. 

24 Salammbt, chap, iii. 

Certains, p, 78. 

^ A rebours, Preface, p. xi. 

27 Id., pp. 21 1 et seq. Perhaps not only of Catholicism, if one may 
interpret as a ceremony similar to the Black Mass the profanation of the 
Eleusinian Mysteries of which Thucydides speaks (vi, xxviii: ‘ical ra 
fivarifpia dpa axs wofctrot h oJkiW vPpei — ^‘and also that the mysteries 

I'were being performed in private houses in mockery’.) 

28 This is Sainte-Beuve’s definition, Chateaubriand et son groupe, op. cit., 
vol, i, p. 89. On the subject of Chateaubriand’s inspiration, the same 
critic wrote (id., vol. i, p. 246) that this inspiration may be said to be 
‘infernaie et satanique . . . dans toute sa franchise, dans tout son blaspheme*, 
in a passage of the letter of Ren6 to C^uta (see chap, iii, § 7): ‘Mais 



BYZANTIUM 393 

ne se produit ailleurs qu’a demi vo 3 ee et comme dans un faux jour, en se 
m^Iant frauduleusement k un rayonnement d’en haut/ 

29 La Fie littiraire^ Troisi^me S^rie, p. 12 1. 

39 One aspect of this, in relation to Spanish picturesqueness, was dealt 
with by me in a chapter of Unromantic Spain (London and New York, 
Knopf, 1929), *Du Sang, de la volupte, de la mort.’ See also F. Paulhan, 
Le nomeau mysiicisme (Paris, Alcan, 1891) pp. 90 et seq., in the chapter 
*L*amour du mal\* 3i Trots Prmittfs (Pans, 1905). 

33 Variiti 11 (Paris, Nouvelle Revue Fran^aise, 1930), pp. 23 5 et seq.* 

33 On this subject see J. Bricaud, Huysmans et le saianisme^ 

d’aprb des documents inedits (Paris, Chacomac, 1913), especially pp. 67 
et seq. 34 Baudelaire, (Euvres posthumes^ p. 41 r.* 

33 Draft of the preface to Les Fleurs du mal in (E. post. 

36 The analogy was noted by Seyiaz (op. cit., note 9 of chap, i, pp. 171 
et seq.) who calls des Esseintes ‘r^plique parisienne de Roderick Usher’. 
Des Esseintes also compares himself in one point with Usher {A rebours^ 
pp. 254-5): ‘se sentant ainsi que la d^olant Usher, envahi par une transe 
irraisonn^e, par une frayeur sourde.’ 

37 Mes haineSy p. 66. As for Zola’s further affinities with the Decadents, 
see in ch. xv of Thirkse Rayttin the passage culminating in the sentence: ‘Le 
crime leur semblait une jouissance aigue,’ See. 

38 Pages retrottviesy p. 182. 

39 Manette Salomony pp. 286-8. Quoted by H. Bachelin, Jj-K. Huys^ 
mans (Paris, Perrin, 1926), pp. 83-84. See, in Bachdin’s book, chaps, v 
(‘Le Parisien enthousiaste de Paris’) and vi (‘Les Faubourgs et la Bifevre 
16 preux et charmants’). Cf. chap, i of the present volume, p. 45. 

-♦9 Lb-baSy p. 301. 

On Huysmans in respect to satanism, see the book of J. Bricaud 
(op. cit., note 33, pp. 10 et seq.): 

‘Un astrologue parisien, Engine Ledos, le Gevingy de La-bas — et nn ancien 
pretre habitant Lyon, Tabbi BouUan (Docteur Johannes in La-bas)y achevirent 
de le documenter — faussement parfois . . . sur le satanisme modeme (BouUan 
attributed his own satanic practices to the Rosicrucians, p.65) ... La corres- 
pondance entie Huysmans et Tabbi BouUan est volumineusej eUe date du 
6 fivrier 1890 au 4 Janvier 1893.* 

See pp. 13 et seq. for the identification of certain of the characters in 
Ld-bas; and pp. 19 and 20 of Bricaud’s sequel, Huysmans occultiste et 
magicieny ‘Avec une Notice sur les Hosties magiques qui servirent k Huys- 
mans pour combattre les envoutements’ (Paris, Chacornac, 1913). 

‘La virite est que si certains details de la Messe Noire sont empruntis k des 
documents anciens tires soit des Archives de Vintras, soit des piic» du procis 
de la fameuse voyante diabojiique CantianiUe, Huysmans avait bien assistd k 
une des messes noiies dites assez friquemment dans le quartier meme qu’il 
habitait, la rue de Sivres*. 

Seealsofurtheron, p. 3i7,for his relations with the Rosicimcians. ‘Huys- 
mans disait encore, parlant de Guaita et de Pdladan, qu’Us avaient tout 



39+ the romantic AGONY 

tente contre lui, avant et surtout apres son roman L^-lfas\ (Bricaud, 
Huysmans et le satanisme^ p. 37). He would have us believe that he 
received ‘coups de poing fluidiques’. See, I The practices of the Abbd 
BouUan contained every sort of thing — ^‘du mysticisme delirant, de Pero- 
tomanie, de la scatologie, du sadisme et du satanisme’ (p. 66 ), In this 
connexion Bricaud refers one to the book by S. de Guaita, Le Serpent de 
la Genese^ chap, vi, dedicated to the ‘Modernes Avatars du Sorcier’. The 
volume forms the second part of Essais de sciences maudites by Guaita, 
who was a disciple of fiipHs Ldvi (Paris, voL i, Carre, 1890; vol. ii, 
Librairie du Merveilleux, 1891; vol. iii, Bibl. Chacornac, 1897). Guaita 
deals with Ld-bas on pp. 504-5 of vol. ii.* 

JustinCy vol. ii, p. 171, vol. iv, p. 290; Ektlosopkie dans le boudoir y 
voLi, p. 153. 

43 Paris, Cr^, 1927, vol. i, pp. 318 et seq. 

44 E. Bossard et R. de Maulde, Gilles de Rais, marickal de Francey dit 
Barbe-bleue (1404-1440) (Paris, Champion, 1886). 

45 Bossard, pp. 10 and 12; E. Gabory, La Vie et la mori de Gilles de 
Raiz dit — d tort — Barbebleue (Paris, Perrin, 1926), p. 135. Gilles 
stated clearly: *Ces voluptes abjectes, ces crimes atroces, j’en ai con^u seul 
la pensee. J’ai tue par plaisir, pour ma propre ddlectance et sans le conseil 
de qui que ce soit.’ Gabory’s confutation of the tradition that sees in Gilles 
the prototype of Bluebeard is incontestable (pp. 228 et seq.). In the popular 
imagination, however, the two characters were mixed up together. See 
also L. Hernandez, Leproch inquisitorial de G, de Rais (Paris, Biblioth^que 
des Curieux, 1921), p. Ixxxviii,* 

46 Ld-baSy pp, 210-11. 

47 The sadistic theme of at least one of the Diaboliques {A un diner 
d^athies) had already been used by d’Aurevilly in an early tale, Le Cachet 
d*onyx (1831), which shows aU the characteristics both of sensibility and 
of style, with which d’Aurevilly appeared to be endowed half a century 
later. This author provides one of the most obvious illustrations of the 
/close relationship between the Romanticism of 1830 and the Decadence. 

Cf, Le Cachet d^onyXy Liay Fragment (Paris, La Connaissance, 1921), 
with a short essay by R. L. Doyon on *Du Marquis de Sade k Barbey 
d’Aurevilly’. Cf. also chap, i, § 5. 

4 S La Vie littirairey vol. iii, pp. 44-5. 

49 A reboursy p. 213. 

50 See chap, iv, p. 199. 

5* Act I, sc. 2 . 

Trance, La Vie littirairey vol. iii, p. 122.* 

53 See the chapter ‘Swinburne and “le vice anglais** *. 

54 Chapitre xx, Le Roi des ipouvantements,* 

55 Le Convive des demilres fites. It seems that this character actually 
existed. Dfihren, Das Geschlechtsleben in Englandy op. cit., vol. iii, p. 76, 
tells of an English baronet. Sir Claude de Crespigny, well known in the 
county of Essex as the ‘Amateur Hangman*, who used to take delight in 



BYZANTIUM 395 

performing the functions of an executioner, especially when it was a case 
of hanging women, when a horrible ricius used to contract his face. See 
also H. France, Bn ^Police Qourf (Paris, Charpentier, 1891) pp. 249-50. 

56 See Seylaz, op. dt., p. 136. 

57 La Vie Httirairey voL iii, pp. 237-8. 

58 On Guaita, the curious oflFshoot of a crossing of German, Italian 
and Lorrain blood, see M. Barr^s, Un Renovateur de Voccultismey Stanislas 
de Guaita (1861-1898) (Paris, Chamuel, 1^98); also Amori et dolari 
sacrunsy pp. 115-46. 

^In 1883 Guaita had published (chez Lemerre) a small volume of verse 
dedicated to Leconte de Lisle, La Muse noirey in which the usual Decadent 
themes recur. The Muse invoked by the poet is ‘une n^gresse aux formes 
opulentes’, an image which is derived from Baudelaire and Rops: 

Ange de la Douleur qu’on ne peut consoler 
Elle avait dans le Ciel deux ailes ^tendues. 


De son corps ruisselait TeiHuve des luxures 
Et des rares d^sirs inassouvis toujours. 

Sa gorge palpitait, oh saignaient des morsures 
Ouvertes sous la dent fSroce des amours. 

Pleins d’^toiles, des pleurs roul^rent de ses yeux 
Oh iiamboyait Torgie en sa splendeur paienne . . • 

7Her kiss is